Surprisingly Fun Night for Fans
Much has been said the past two weeks about the state of Nebraska basketball and head coach Doc Sadler's future. To say it was a long two weeks for Sadler and company is quite the understatement. If the Huskers played a few more games like they did this afternoon, the sentiments toward the program may be a bit more positive.
"I would be disappointed if people weren't disappointed—if fans weren't disappointed," Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler explained. "I would be disappointed because it means they don't care." He did acknowledge the fans that did make it to the game. "There's not many places in the country that you can go where a team is 3-and-whatever it is in the league and have that many people at the game, I can promise you that. I was proud of our fans that have been coming and sticking with us."
Putting those issues aside, one thing about today's victory was obvious: Nebraska's 80-57 win over Illinois was fun. Nebraska looked like a completely different team. They were confident, poised, and responded well to high-pressure situations — an aspect that has been virtually nonexistent this season. Which leads to one question: Where has this team been all season?
Stellar From beyond the arc
In 1971, country-western star Jerry Reed wrote and recorded the famous lyrics, "When you're hot you're hot, when you're not you're not." Up to this point in the season, Nebraska has pretty much lived by that quote, but most of the time they fell into the "when you're not" side of things. Tonight was a different story. After NU started the game off slowly in the first half, they managed to get hot late in the first half and throughout the entire second half.
And I mean red hot.
NU shot an uncharacteristic 50 percent from three-point range and an impressive 55.6% from the field.
There were times when NU looked like it wasn't ever going to miss a shot.
"We made some shots, and when you make shots—as I've said all along—it is easier to shoot when you have a lead and it's not a tight ball-game," said Sadler.
Spencer Single-handedly Stomps the Illini
Bo Spencer could NOT miss in the second half. To say he played a great game is a huge understatement. Spencer finished with 27 points, four assists, one steal, and was 9-for-11 shooting from the field. It was truly a remarkable performance.
"You know, I can't really explain what's going on," Spencer said. "I just was happy for the team—happy for the three seniors including myself—and I was glad to see that we had a lot of fan support. We just wanted to play hard."
Caleb "Jumpman" Walker
There aren't many plays in basketball that get a crowd going like a slam-dunk or an alley-oop. When you add the fact that Nebraska isn't exactly known for its stellar dunking ability, you find yourself with a Devaney crowd that reacts quite positively to such a play.
That's where senior Caleb Walker comes into play. Not once, not twice, but three times he ignited the crowd with spectacular dunks. With 17:45 left in the second half, he extended the lead to 42-26 and brought the crowd into the game.
Perhaps the most exciting moment in the game however, came with 7:33 left in the game. Nebraska stole the ball and pushed the ball down court, only to find none other than Caleb Walker sprinting towards the basket. Every Husker fan was on their feet in anticipation of this huge play before the ball even made its way to Walker. He caught the ball with one hand as he glided through the air and slammed it through the hoop. The crowd went absolutely crazy. I think there were even some cheers coming for the Illinois student section. Well, maybe not.
Beatrice Boy Acknowledged
While Brian Jorge-Diaz may be out for the season, junior Mike Fox has been asked to take on a bigger role which has included a substantial increase in playing time. No, you can't replace a guy like Diaz, especially this late in the season. That much is obvious. But standing at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, what Fox may lack in size, he makes up for with his on-court awareness. His three-pointer early in the second half extended Nebraska's lead to 52-28 and helped provide a spark for the Huskers. With 4:48 remaining in the game, Fox was subbed out and received a huge ovation from the crowd.
"I've never questioned him," Sadler said. "I told you guys—he took a charge, he got some rebounds, he made some shots. These guys have continued to give everything they've got."
Fox finished with five points, two assists, and one rebound.
The student section was loud tonight. Peculiarly loud. But it wasn't Nebraska's student section that made this Big Red Report notebook. Instead, a good portion of the southwest corner of Devaney became home to a plethora of Illinois students who made the trip to Lincoln. I hate to say it, but they were, without a doubt, the best student section in the building. No offense to the Nebraska's, but it was somewhat refreshing to see a student section that worked in unison and chanted relevant topics. For instance, every time the shot-clock wound down to ten seconds for the Huskers, the Illinois faithful chanted "5,4,3,2,1" in an attempt to force an hurried shot. They were loud, energetic, and fun to listen to. Honestly, there were actually more students in the Illinois student section than in Nebraska's.
By the second half, they didn't have much to cheer about. I'm sure they will have a fun drive back to Champagne, Illinois, in a crammed Peoria Charter bus. You have to hand it to them, though. That's dedication.
Other Sadler Quotes
"Obviously it's easy to be in my position knowing you've coached a lot of basketball games and that you're going to get a chance to coach a lot more basketball games. But when you're a senior and you've got five games left, and things have been as tough as they have been for them, you hurt for them. But to know that you're continuing to get every bit of effort that they got, it makes me proud."
- Josh Harvey -