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February 17, 2010At just 1-9 in the Big 12 Conference, the last thing Nebraska needs right now is to go on the road and face another top-25 team.
Such is life in the Big 12, however.
For a school-record fifth straight game, the Huskers will have to take on a ranked team when they travel down to Manhattan, Kan., to play No. 7 Kansas State tonight at 6:10 p.m.
While the league has always been a brutal stretch for any team, Nebraska seems to have had the cards fall in fairly inconvenient places as they struggle through the last stretch of the regular season.
"There's a lot of battle scars," head coach Doc Sadler said. "You talk as a coach and talk as a player about being excited about being in this situation when you're being recruited or whatever. Sometimes you need to be careful for what you wish for. But at the same time, if you're any kind of competitor, you like it. You don't like the results, but as a player, this is why you come to league like this."
Just when the Huskers looked to have gained some momentum after picking up their first and only conference win over Oklahoma, the brutal five-game stretch has erased any positives from that point on.
Beginning with a home loss to then-No. 10 KSU on Feb. 2, Nebraska has dropped four straight games to ranked foes, including at No. 1 Kansas, at home to No. 24 Baylor and then at No. 14 Texas on Saturday.
As a result, the fact that they're about to take on the seventh-ranked team in the country isn't quite as exciting as it may have been a month ago.
"You're doing it every night now," Sadler said. "I don't think because you're playing the seventh-ranked team in the country it's special. Now, if you're doing that once in a whole season, then that's different. But when you're in a stretch to where you could be playing six or seven straight teams that have been ranked, it's just another team."
Even though they have tasted victory just once in the past five weeks, the players say they haven't given up on the season and plan to continue playing as hard as they can the rest of the way.
"We're always excited about playing," sophomore guard Brandon Richardson said. "This is what we came to do. We came to play basketball. It's the funnest thing I could ever do right now. Everybody's excited about it. It's our next game, and we're going to compete and leave it on the floor."
Needless to say, the Big 12 schedule has been a grueling ride for Nebraska this season. However, with such a young and inexperienced team going through its first taste of the conference schedule, it wasn't as if the bumps in the road came unexpectedly.
"It is a grind," Sadler said. "Even if you're winning, it's a grind. This time of year, it's a grind. There's no need to act like there's not, because there is, and there's no reason to act like it doesn't concern me, because it does. But it hasn't just started. The concern has been there for a long time.
"To their credit, they continue to show up. That doesn't mean they all have great days everyday, but as a team, I don't know that the Nebraska basketball team hasn't gotten better each and every day."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
In the teams' previous meeting, Kansas State ran away with the game behind some red-hot perimeter shooting. In particular, senior guard Denis Clemente ended the night tying his career-high with five 3-pointers. Keep an eye on how Nebraska defends the perimeter and if it runs a more aggressive man-to-man defense to limit the number of open looks the Wildcats get from beyond the arc.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE HUSKERS:
Coming off a 40-point loss to Texas where no player was able to score in double figures, it's hard to say anyone is exactly "hot" coming into tonight's game. However, looking back on the first game against the Wildcats this season, redshirt freshman Jorge Brian Diaz had some success with a team-high 13 points. As Nebraska looks to slowdown KSU's offense, Diaz should once again be a top option inside to help slow up the game's tempo.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS:
Clemente torched Nebraska earlier this season, but there's little question that junior guard Jacob Pullen is the leader of the Wildcats. Averaging 18.7 points per game this season, Pullen has put up 16.7 ppg since the start of Big 12 play, and he led the Wildcats to a win over Colorado on Saturday with 15 points and 10 assists.