Huskers to face toughest task yet

Tonight the Nebraska men's basketball team will face their toughest challenge to date as they invade the Bartow Center in Birmingham, Al. to face the Blazers of UAB. The Huskers come in to the contest at 2-0 off of two impressive wins against lesser opponents, while the Blazers are also 2-0 to start the season.

UAB is coming off of a very impressive season as they made it to the regional semi-finals after upending #1 seeded Kentucky in the NCAA tournament last season in the second round. Head Coach Mike Anderson has steadily re-built a program that has seen a lot of success in the program's relatively short history despite suffering through some lean years during the Murray Bartow era. Two years ago Anderson guided them to the Conference USA finals and an NIT appearance and followed that up with last year's NCAA berth.

Anderson was an assistant at Arkansas under their former Head Coach Nolan Richardson so he likes his teams to play that "40 Minutes of Hell" style that Richardson used with the Razorbacks. Anderson's Blazers are always well conditioned and are relentless on the court. Thus Anderson will use a very deep bench to try and wear the Huskers down. So far this season ten different Blazers are playing double digit minutes while only three have averaged over 20 per contest.

While the minutes are distributed fairly equally, the scoring hasn't been shared quite as much. Only 4 players average more than 5 ppg. Senior Donell Taylor leads the team in scoring thus far averaging 17.5 points per contest followed by Demario Eddins' 11 and Ronell (Donell's twin brother) Taylor's 10.

Handling the basketball will be a crucial factor in this game with the pressure applied by UAB. Despite turning the ball over 15 times per game UAB has managed to win both games they've played by a convincing margin due to the fact that they are able to force the opposition into more mistakes. So far UAB's opponents have turned the ball over 25 times per game.

The Blazers also do an outstanding job of finding open teammates in transition and in the half court. Junior point guard Carldell "Squeaky" Johnson, a fan favorite among Blazer fans, does a solid job leading the offense and taking care of the ball. Johnson currently leads the team in dimes averaging 6.0 per game. Not to be outdone however is Donell Taylor as he is averaging 5.0 per game. UAB as a team is averaging 16.5 assists.

Having said all that, the Cornhuskers do have some solid advantages themselves that could pay dividends in this contest.

The size up front should be an area that Nebraska can exploit in this contest. While UAB prefers to use a lineup consisting primarily of athletic 6'6" to 6'9" types, the Huskers prefer to use big strong guys in the paint who know how to rebound the basketball. So far this season John Turek and freshman Aleks Maric have done a nice job in the paint rebounding the basketball. Even guard Jason Dourrisseau has done an outstanding job of going after the boards. UAB is negative 5.5 on the season in rebounding while the Cornhuskers have snatched 53 more rebounds than their opponents. If Nebraska is to escape with a victory tonight this is a key are in which to succeed.

Another area that NU looks to have an advantage is shooting the basketball. One thing that's nice about playing teams that like to press is you generally will throughout the game get your share of lay-ups and open shots. The press is designed not only to create turnovers, but to force players into rushing open looks and speed the tempo as well. If players can remain calm and don't force things, they should be able to take advantage of those open shots.

Nebraska this season is shooting 48% on the year as opposed to UAB's 41% so if the Cornhuskers just manage to take care of the ball and remain cool under pressure then they should be able to exploit that shooting advantage. Both teams have held their opponents to the lower 30's in shooting percentage so it will be critical for Nebraska to take advantage of their open shots.

This game will be a big one in the out of conference season for the Nebraska basketball team and their hopes at landing an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament. Games like these can really help not only because of the RPI but also because of fact that the NCAA selection committee always looks at road wins very favorably. Improving to 3-0 tonight would be a huge step in the right direction for Barry Collier's basketball program.

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