Jayhawks Not 'Skerred

Just 18 days ago, KU basketball fans seemed worried. The Jayhawks had dropped their second game (at Michigan State) in over two weeks and already lost four games this season, one more than last year's national championship team.

But there were encouraging signs from that valiant second-half comeback against the Spartans. While the Jayhawks' rally fell short (75-62), the team entered conference play with high hopes.

Kansas (15-4, 4-0 in Big 12) has since won four straight games and will be looking to notch No. 5 tonight against Nebraska (12-6, 2-3) in Lincoln at the Bob Devaney Center.

Tipoff is 6:30 p.m. (CST) on ESPN2.

The Jayhawks, who dropped their first two true road games (Arizona and Michigan State), now look to win their third straight contest away from home following their victories at Colorado on Jan. 17 and at Iowa State on Saturday.

KU has had great success the last two decades over the Huskers, winning 11 straight games and 20 of the last 21 meetings. The Jayhawks' only loss during that time came on Feb. 15, 2004 (74-55) in Bill Self's first year at Kansas. KU, though, has crushed the Huskers in Lincoln since then with a +20.7 average margin of victory during their last three trips to the Bob Devaney Center.

"We've played some of our best ball that we've played over time when we've gone to Lincoln the last couple years," Self said. "Of course we have a different cast of players now than what we've had in the past, but I think it's a good place to play. I think it's a place where we'll have a few Jayhawk fans there, but for the most part it's all red and white and we're going to have to play very, very well. Our guys have always been excited going up there to play."

This year should be no different, even though Nebraska has struggled lately. The Huskers have lost two straight and three of their last four games. NU is coming off a 76-74 overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday in Lincoln. Nebraska shot 87.1 percent from the free-throw line ( 27-of-31), setting Big 12 highs for makes, attempts and percentage.

Self knows Nebraska will be a tough test. The Huskers are an extremely quick, small squad with their tallest starter just 6-8 (Chris Balham). The other four starters stand 5-7 (sophomore guard Cookie Miller), 5-11 (senior guard Steve Harley), 6-3 (junior guard Sek Henry) and 6-5 (senior guard Ade Dagundero).

"I think anytime you go on the road, obviously it's a challenge," Self said. "We're going to have to handle their speed because they are going to play small. They really get after it. Doc (Sadler) has done a great job with this group as far as being sound defensively. You have pressuring all over the place."

Nebraska is limiting opponents to a Big 12-leading 57.8 points per game and ranks second in the league with 7.1 steals per game. NU is averaging 67 ppg.

Defensively, Self is concerned whether his players "can get to their shooters."

"That will be a big key because we will play bigger than they will the majority of the game," Self said.

Starting senior guards Harley (12.1 ppg) and Dagundero (10.7 ppg and team-high 51.8 percent field goal shooting) lead the Huskers. Harley also ranks second on the team in assists (41) and steals (25). Senior guard Paul Velander is a huge spark off the bench with 9.3 points per game and a team-best 49 threes.

Henry is next in scoring (9.1 ppg), followed by Miller (7.2 ppg and team-high 71 assists), freshman guard Toney McCray (6.4 ppg and team-best 11 blocks) and junior guard Ryan Anderson (6.3 ppg and team-high 4.8 rpg). Balham averages just 2.2 points in 9.9 minutes per game.

With the Huskers fielding such a small team, Self expects NU to fly around and trap the post. KU sophomore center Cole Aldrich will have to be strong with the ball and make good decisions.

"Every time that Cole catches it he'll feel two guys on him," Self said. "A lot of times, small guys trapping is just as effective or more effective than big guys because if you bring the ball down beneath your waist there's a good chance that they could deflect it or steal it."

Nebraska must find a way to stop Aldrich (15.4 ppg, 9.8 rpg, and Big 12-leading 2.7 bpg) and junior point guard Sherron Collins (18.7 ppg). Collins has been on a roll during Big 12 play, averaging 21 points per game and made 19 of 19 from the charity stripe.

The Chicago native has become the true leader for Self's Jayhawks, energizing his teammates in practice and the games. Collins is coming off a career-high tying 26 points versus the Cyclones, eclipsing 1,000 career points.

"He's obviously playing great right now," Self said. "There are not many guys out there playing as well as he is. ... The thing I like most is how he's leading our young guys. He's just been remarkable with the patience and the toughness and tough love and everything else he's given our young guys. He's kind of brought them along in an accelerated way here in the last couple weeks."

Now, Collins and the Jayhawks hope to continue their winning ways in Big 12 play at Lincoln. They know every road game is critical in KU's hopes to win its fifth straight Big 12 title.

"It's going to come down to who can win on the road." Aldrich said.

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