MBB: Huskers Can't Keep Up with No. 3 KU

By at January 14, 2010 | 1:21 AM | Print

For a half, by the hair of its Husker chin, Nebraska’s basketball team beat No. 3 Kansas at its own offensive game: A smooth all-court combination of 3-point shooting and savvy post play.

NU led 44-43 as Brandon Richardson’s 3-pointer with two seconds left in the half had capped a stunning 20 minutes of basketball. The Huskers had hit 56 percent of their shots, and 8 of 11 from 3-point territory. They boasted 12 assists. Jorge Brian Diaz – not Kansas’ Cole Aldrich – looked like the all-conference center.

But that beauty had its price. The pace took its toll. For KU is KU.

“You can’t get into a scoring match with Kansas,” head coach Doc Sadler said.

Opting for just a seven-man rotation, Sadler watched as Kansas surged ahead in the second half, survived an eight-point spurt from Richardson, and put away the Huskers with a series of offensive rebounds and second-chance buckets in a 84-72 win Wednesday.

“If they’re going to score in the 80s, you’re not going to win many games,” Sadler said. “And that’s ultimately what happened.”

NU lost its 14th in a row to the Jayhawks. Sadler fell to 0-8 against the only Big 12 team he hasn‘t beaten. It’s his seventh loss to Kansas by double digits.

“I’m tired of losing at home,” Sadler said. “You can’t lose at home to these guys. You gotta beat em. We didn’t.”

For much of the game in front of a raucous, active crowd of 12,510 at Bob Devaney Sports Center, Nebraska (12-5 overall and 0-2 in the Big 12 Conference) matched Kansas (15-1, 1-0) blow for blow. But the Huskers’ had fallen into a trap, Sadler said, of settling for long jumpers, instead of forcing KU to defend for the length of the shot clock.

“That’s what they want,” Sadler said. “They want the possessions.”

The strategy worked as long as Nebraska hit its perimeter shots. When NU immediately cooled off to start the second half, Kansas took control, turning a one-point deficit into a 53-46 lead within five minutes.

“It was our first five minutes or theirs,” point guard Lance Jeter said. “Theirs won.”

Said Kansas coach Bill Self: “Well the law of averages. Isn’t it amazing how that works? They missed a lot of the same shots that they made in the first half.”

But Richardson – who led NU with 18 points despite losing eight pounds to the stomach flu – rattled off two treys and a baseline two-point jumper to recapture the lead 54-53 with 13:09 left.

Kansas guard Sherron Collins, who scored a game-high 22, answered with a layup four seconds later. Nebraska never led again.

As the Huskers shot just 31 percent in the second half, Collins controlled the game with a variety of jumpers and runners, and sophomore forward Marcus Morris (19 points, seven rebounds) owned the paint.

In a crucial 90-second span that began with KU leading 65-61, Morris scored seven points and grabbed two rebounds. The second of those boards turned into a Tyshawn Taylor 3-pointer that capped a 10-1 run and inflated the lead to 75-62 with 5:35 remaining.

During this stretch, Diaz was on the bench with four fouls. The tallest Husker on the floor was 6-foot-8 Christian Standhardinger, playing in his second career collegiate game. Sadler did not insert forwards Brandon Ubel and Quincy Hankins-Cole for rebounding relief.

Sadler chalked up the key run to NU’s lack of defensive fortitude.

“We don’t have the mental toughness you have to have right now,” Sadler said. “I could come up with excuses but they don’t matter right now. When the game is on the line, we are not getting stops. It doesn’t mean enough to us to hurt, to get in a stance and hurt and grind.”

The loss didn’t overshadow the best game of Diaz’s young career. Hot and cold during his redshirt freshman season, he reappeared Wednesday night, scoring 15 against an excellent defensive center in Aldrich with an array of moves and shots. A silky turnaround jumper. A drop-step hook shot. An up-and-under. A transition layup. His best play was a skip pass to Sek Henry for a 3-pointer.

“He’s getting better,” Sadler said. “He’s getting more confident. I think he’s understanding it. And the guys are getting more confidence in him.”

Diaz only had one rebound, but Sadler said he wasn’t surprised, with the Morris twins and Aldrich in the blocks. Aldrich had an off night on offense – 6 points on 1-of-4 shooting – but made up for it with nine rebounds and three blocks.

The other Kansas senior, Collins, kept the Jayhawks afloat after Nebraska jumped out to a quick 12-1 lead. He hit a trio of contested 3-pointers to cut NU’s lead to 17-14. Shortly thereafter, KU snuck ahead on another trey from Tyrel Reed.

“Sherron put us on his back,” Self said. “Sherron got us back to the point where it was a basketball game and we played a lot better after that.”

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