Cornhusker defense tough, physical

Nebraska and Ole Miss tip off at 8 p.m. today in Oxford. Both are trying to win two more games to get to the NIT semis at Madison Square Garden.

The Cornhuskers, in this tourney for the 15th time, won the NIT in 1996 and made it to New York City two other times - 1983 and 1987.

The Rebels are trying to advance to NYC for the first time in eight tries in this tournament dating back to their first NIT appearance in 1980.

Football likely comes first to mind when talking Nebraska and Ole Miss. Both have had nationally reputable success on the gridiron, and the Rebels won the only meeting between the two in the Independence Bowl of 2002, a 27-23 victory behind QB Eli Manning.

The Cornhusker basketball media guide says Nebraska's hoops tradition has been at its best since 1980, and the same can be said about Ole Miss. The Huskers, with 12 seasons of 20 or more wins in program history, have been to the NCAA Tournament six times.

Ole Miss, with a 20-win season for the ninth time in program history, made the NCAA tourney field for the first time in 1981 and has also been six times total.

But you can forget all that tonight as both are focused only on the task at hand. Ole Miss, now 22-10, defeated UC-Santa Barbara 83-68 in Oxford in round one last week, while Nebraska beat Charlotte 67-48 in Lincoln.

Ole Miss second-year head coach Andy Kennedy said the 20-12 Cornhuskers present quite a challenge for his Rebels.

"They're a grind it out, very tough fundamental team," said Kennedy, whose first UM team also made the NIT but lost in round two at Clemson. "They defend you a lot like Kentucky. They fight you. Very physical. They have a young man inside, Aleks Maric, who is as good a low-post player as we've seen all year. He's 6-11, 270, and they run their offense through him. Then they really play four perimeter guys around him. It will be a little bit different matchup for us."

Maric leads the Huskers at 15.7 points per game and 10. 2 rebounds per contest. No other Nebraska player scores or rebounds in double figures.

Nebraska's defense has held nine of its last 16 opponents to 62 points or less, including eight Big 12 Conference teams. Nebraska actually limited four of its last seven foes to under 50 points, with Charlotte's 48 points being the fewest by any team in the first round of the 2008 NIT. The 48 points was also the fewest ever allowed by Nebraska in postseason action.

Overall, Nebraska has held nine teams (seven non-conference, two Big 12) to 50 or fewer points this season, the most by a Husker squad since they held 10 opponents to 50 or fewer points in 1949-50.

While defense has been the biggest story of the Husker season, Nebraska has come together on offense over the final weeks of the season. The Cornhuskers have shot better than 47 percent from the field over the last nine games, earning a 6-3 record over that stretch.

Nebraska is coached by Kenneth "Doc" Sadler, also in his second season. His first Nebraska team was 17-14 last year.

In addition to senior center Maric, here are the probable starters for Nebraska in tonight's game.

6-3, 195, Soph. G Sek Henry (5.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg)

5-11, 170, Jr. G Steve Harley (8.9, 2.5)

6-5, 190, Jr. G Ade Dagunduro (8.7, 3.7)

6-4, 200, Soph. G Ryan Anderson (8.5, 5.3)

* Based on last game starters for Nebraska

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