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February 11, 2010When the dust finally settled after Wednesday's 55-53 loss to Baylor, the feeling in Nebraska's locker room had shifted from heartbreak to frustration.
More than anything, it was the way the game ended in the final minute, as the Huskers had three straight possessions to either tie or win the game and failed to execute on all of them. In particular, it was NU's last two possessions in the final 25 seconds after the Bears had taken a one-point lead that really stood out.
Needing just one basket to reclaim the lead, Nebraska instead settled for a low-percentage 3-point attempt from junior guard Lance Jeter with roughly 12 seconds to play that missed its target, leading to a Baylor free throw that bumped its lead up to 55-53.
With one last chance, Jeter couldn't get off a pass or even a shot, as he threw up a 3 that was blocked as time expired.
As would be expected, there was plenty of criticism from fans, players and coaches alike after the game, but after watching the film of the game, head coach Doc Sadler said he realized the Huskers had actually run the final play to near perfection.
Instead of the initial assumption that Nebraska completely botched a chance to win or send the game into overtime, Sadler said it came down to Baylor simply executing better than the Huskers.
"After the game, I thought that the last play was poorly executed, (but) we couldn't have executed any better," Sadler said. "(Jorge Brian Diaz) set probably as good of a screen as he could set. Bear (Eshaunte Jones) was right where he was supposed to be on the opposite block and was wide open. But give Baylor credit. Lance got in there, and they were just so big, he couldn't get it to (Sek Henry), nor could he get it to Bear.
"I thought Lance did a great job. We couldn't have drawn it up any better, and they couldn't have executed it any better. Baylor just executed better than we did in that particular situation."
While it may have taken some of the heat off Jeter and the rest of the Huskers on the floor for the final two plays, Sadler's realization wasn't exactly all that comforting. Once again, Nebraska had a chance to win in the final minutes but failed to come through.
Now at 1-8 in Big 12 Conference play, the Huskers are at risk of posting their worst record under Sadler and their worst since 2001-02, when they finished 13-15 overall. In order go into next season with any positive momentum, NU knows it has to find a way to be the team that executes the best when it matters the most.
"I don't know. I can't explain a lot of this," Sadler said. "Our guys are playing well. If you just look at the stat sheet, you talk about turnovers and rebounding and transition baskets and all those things. But you can't leave out that one stat, and that's shooting the basketball. I mean, if you would have told me we would hold that team to 55 points and not win it, I would say I think you don't know what you're talking about."
NU getting dominated in free throw department
One of the more overlooked factors in Wednesday's loss was the fact that, once again, Nebraska shot fewer total free throws than Baylor made on the night. While the Huskers shot 13-of-16 from the charity stripe, the Bears made 20 of their 25 free throws.
Including Wednesday night, Nebraska has attempted less than or as many free throws as its opponents have made in five of their eight Big 12 losses, and it's made fewer total free throws in seven of the conference defeats.
"I told them as long as we continue to allow teams to make more free throws than we attempt, you're not going to win many close ballgames," Sadler said. "You have to get to the free-throw line. Good teams make more than the other team shoots.
"If you go back and look at the games this year that we've lost in conference, I would say most of those games would be where the opponent has made more than we've shot. That is the ballgame."
Huskers had all-around bad shooting night
As if there weren't enough reasons to point out why Nebraska came up short against Baylor, all of them seem to come down to one simple concept - making shots.
Along with shooting a dismal 31.6 percent from the field (18-of-57), including hitting just 7-of-25 shots in the second half, the Huskers shot just 4-of-21 (19 percent) from 3-point range.
Despite coming into the game shooting 39.4 percent from beyond the arc and being on pace to break the school record for season 3-point shooting percentage (38.9), the Huskers couldn't buy a perimeter bucket against the Bears. In the first half, NU made just 2-of-12 3-pointers.
"The thing that's frustrating is besides probably two of those shots, all the others were as open as you could ever ask," Sadler said. "Even the right guys were shooting them. I mean, some of them weren't even close. We had some of them hitting the backboard before it hit the rim. We go 4-for-21. Explain that."
The poor 3-point shooting was especially costly because Nebraska struggled to score any other way all night against the Bears' stingy zone defense.
"You play a team like that, you've got to be able to shoot better than 20 percent from the 3-point line," Sadler said.
What also could use some explanation was the fact that senior leaders Ryan Anderson and Henry combined for zero points on 0-of-5 shooting in a game that came down to the final possession.
The scoreless efforts marked the first time both Henry and Anderson were held without a point in the same game since January 2009.
"I think if you look at the success of a team in whatever sport it is, your seniors that are playing need to be playing the best basketball of their careers," Sadler said. "I think for a while (Anderson and Henry) were doing that. It just so happens that last night they didn't. We just needed one basket from them. It wasn't because they weren't giving the effort, but yeah, it's disappointing, probably more so for them than me."
Sadler clears up incident with Baylor's Dunn
Those who watched the Baylor game on T.V. may have been left wondering what exactly was going on when the cameras showed BU guard LaceDarius Dunn seemingly exchanging words with Sadler as the teams left the court at the end of the first half.
On Thursday, Sadler cleared things up, saying there was nothing to the incident and that he didn't even know what was going on when Dunn started saying things to NU junior forward Quincy Hankins-Cole.
"He and Quincy had run into each other, and LaceDarius said something to him and I turned around and said, 'What happened?'" Sadler said. "It wasn't anything. He wasn't being disrespectful. What I was upset about was we didn't close out again and they almost got an easy basket. I was walking off, and next thing I know I saw LaceDarius turn around and say something to Quincy.
"I said, 'What happened back there.' It was just him and Quincy bumping into each other, I guess. I saw it on tape today, and to be honest with you - it looked like they bumped into each other, but it didn't look like anything. It looked like they were just running bay each other."