Inside Slant: Husker Hoops

Had you told Doc Sadler before the season his team would go 2-1 in non-conference road games, the Nebraska coach would've taken that with no questions asked.


Had you told Doc Sadler before the season his team would go 2-1 in non-conference road games, the Nebraska coach would've taken that with no questions asked.

The problem is that Sadler wouldn't have figured those road victories being counteracted by two home losses.

In all, Nebraska's 6-3 record heading into its final two nonconference games -- home against Alcorn State and Central Michigan -- is a general disappointment, given Sadler proclaimed in October that this would be his best team in his six seasons with the Huskers.

The low point was a 55-53 home loss to a Wake Forest team picked to finish 11th in the ACC. Nebraska had a poor shot on its final possession, then allowed an uncontested layup for the winning points with 3.6 seconds to play. A 10-point loss at in-state rival Creighton followed, leaving NU at 4-3.

A one-point victory over Florida Gulf Coast -- 51-50 -- hardly reinvigorated hopes that Nebraska had things figured out. But the Huskers hit the road and beat a 7-2 TCU team by 12 points, after trailing by 10 points in the first half.

"Hopefully that's going to be a kick start to what's fixing to happen to us," Sadler said, referring to the beginning of Big Ten Conference play on Dec. 27.

Sadler admitted his team is "not close" to being ready for league play, which begins with visits from Big Ten bluebloods Wisconsin and Michigan State. In Nebraska's first eight Big Ten games, the Huskers face both Wisconsin and Ohio State -- the top two preseason picks -- two times.

"We're not close. But come the 27th of December, we will be ready. I promise you," Sadler said. "Those guys are too good, they're practicing too hard. They will be ready to play the best game they've played all year on the 27th. I believe that a hundred percent."


--Zone defenses have given Nebraska fits this season, especially the variety of zone looks applied by Florida Gulf Coast, which held the Huskers to a season-low 51 points. Nebraska didn't attack the zone and settled for 24 three-pointers, a problem that also plagued the Huskers in their loss to Wake Forest, when they scored 53 points.

--Nebraska is now 65-9 under Sadler when holding opponents to 60 points or fewer. Nebraska has held three teams to fewer than 60 points this season, including two teams to 50 or fewer.

--Nebraska is on track to have one of the school's best seasons at the free-throw line. Through nine games, the Huskers were shooting 76.5 percent on free-throws, a mark that ranked second in the Big Ten and 10th nationally. Nebraska, which had free-throw shooting percentages of 70, 67, 70, 66 and 71 in Sadler's first five seasons, has had only three teams since 1948 shoot better than 75 percent on free throws.

PLAYER TO WATCH: G Bo Spencer -- The 6-foot-2 transfer guard from LSU has given Nebraska a much-needed scoring punch. He's already produced four 20-point games, the first time a Husker has accomplished that since 2008-09, when Ade Dagunduro had five 20-point games for the season. Expect some more from Spencer, who can create for himself -- something else Nebraska has been lacking -- and will be the guy with the ball in his hands when the shot clock is winding down.

KEY CONFERENCE GAME: Dec. 27 vs. Wisconsin -- It's Nebraska's first game as a member of the Big Ten Conference, and it's the earliest start to conference play the Huskers have had. Wisconsin has been one of the Big Ten's premier teams over the last decade, and plays a similar defensive, grind-it-out style that Nebraska has played under coach Doc Sadler. The first team to 50 might win. The Big Ten opener begins a brutal stretch for Nebraska, which plays its first six league games against teams that went to last year's NCAA Tournament.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's so much pressure on these guys to (win) and it's almost like a sigh of relief to them. It can't be that way. They've got to enjoy it." -- Nebraska coach Doc Sadler.


LINEUP BREAKDOWN: G Bo Spencer (16.7 points per game) will anchor a lineup that currently has only one other player, C Jorge Brian Diaz, averaging in double-figures (10.9 ppg). Junior F Brandon Ubel (6.1 rpg) is among the team's top defensive players. When healthy, junior G Dylan Talley (40 percent on three-pointers) can provide a scoring punch, along with Spencer. Senior G Brandon Richardson is leading the team in steals, but coach Doc Sadler wants the gun-shy Richardson to shoot more often. Senior G Caleb Walker is shooting 52 percent from the field.


--G Dylan Talley has twice this season re-aggravated a deep thigh bruise he first sustained two years ago, when he was a freshman at Binghamton and never fully recovered. He was shooting 44 percent and averaging 12.5 points off the bench before taking a shot to his thigh Nov. 26; he then shot 5-of-18 over his next three games, including a scoreless game at Creighton, when he again was hit on his thigh.

--G Corey Hilliard hasn't played since Nov. 20, as he sits out with an undisclosed injury. Hilliard is a true freshmen point guard who could provide minutes of the bench to spell Spencer, who's averaging a team-leading 34 minutes a game.

--C Jorge Brian Diaz recorded his 100th career blocked shot with his first of three blocks in Dec. 10 victory over TCU.

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