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February 5, 2011Nebraska came oh-so-close to catching up with No. 2 Kansas on countless occasions, but in the end it couldn't make the big plays when it counted the most.
After pulling to within two possessions eight times in the first 30 minutes of the game, the Huskers couldn't hold down the Jayhawks long enough to ever take the lead, as they trailed the entire game in what ended in a 86-66 blowout loss.
The defeat was Nebraska's third in its past four games, and it snapped the Huskers' 14-game home winning streak, which was two shy of the school record. The Jayhawks also picked up their 17th consecutive win in the series in what was likely their final meeting with NU as members of the same conference.
"They were just too good today," head coach Doc Sadler said. "They were just too good. I thought our guys played as hard as you could play, and what can you say about the crowd? The crowd was unbelievable? We could've played them 10 times, and if they play as well as they did today we're going to have a hard time beating them."
Things didn't start off too hot for Nebraska (15-7 overall, 3-5 Big 12) to open the game, as Kansas (22-1, 7-1) jumped out to an early 20-10 lead with the help of an 11-2 run sparked by three straight 3-pointers. After committing a season-high 22 turnovers in Wednesday's loss to Kansas State, the Huskers turned it over eight times in the first half, including five in the first 10 minutes.
Just when it seemed the Jayhawks were going to make it a route from the get-go, Nebraska responded just in time with a 7-0 run of its own, capped off by a great pass from Lance Jeter to Jorge Brian Diaz for a lay-up that made it 20-17 with 11:20 to go in the half.
Jeter finished the day with his second career double-double, scoring 10 points with a season-high 10 assists, including seven dishes in the first half.
The Huskers would come within three points three more times in the half and cut the deficit to as few as two when Jeter scored to make it 34-32 with 3:04 left, the closest NU had been since the 16:13 mark.
Like they've done so many times in the past, though, the Jayhawks put together a 10-2 scoring spurt that bumped the lead back up to 10 with less than a minute left in the half. Brandon Richardson hit a pair of free throws with 5.2 seconds remaining to make it 42-32 going into halftime.
Kansas shot 7-of-12 (58.3 percent) from 3-point range and 15-of-27 (55.6 percent) from the field in the first half.
"The first half, I thought that was about as good of a offensive performance that I've coached against," Sadler said. "I think they did a lot of good things, and obviously when you shoot the ball the way shoot it they way they do and you've got guys like the Morris twins and (Thomas) Robinson, and they're making shots like that, it's going to be difficult."
The second half opened with some promise for Nebraska, as Richardson scored seven straight points to cut it to 44-41, but once again Kansas was able to answer in a big way, this time with back-to-back 3-pointers by Marcus Morris and Brady Morningstar.
The Huskers were able to get it within six points three more times over the next six minutes, but they could never get the stops they had to make in order to take the lead. After a fastbreak lay-up by Jeter made it 60-54 with 10:10 to play, KU pretty much sealed the game with a 13-2 that gave it its biggest lead of the day to that point at 73-57 with a little more than six minutes to play.
From then on, it was all Kansas, as the Huskers never came within 14 the rest of the way and a 3 by Mario Little with just 32 seconds left put the icing on the cake and gave KU its biggest lead of the day at 20.
"It was very frustrating, because you work so hard to get back into it and then they make you pay," Jeter said. "That's why that team is real good. They've got a whole bunch of shooters. They deserve to win. We played our heart out, and I felt we played good D. It's just they could not miss tonight."
When all was said and done, Kansas had shot a season-high 13-of-22 (54.2 percent) from beyond the arc and 24-of-43 (56 percent) from the field, as Nebraska gave up its most points in a game since giving up 91 points in a loss at Kansas State last season. The Jayhawks' 13 3-pointers were the most allowed by the Huskers this season.
Richardson finished with a team-high 16 points, while juniors Toney McCray scored 11 and Caleb Walker added 10. Four different Jayhawks scored in double figures in the win, led by a game-high 19 points from Morningstar and 17 from Markieff Morris.
It certainly won't be easy for the Huskers to bounce back, as they now go on the road to take on Baylor on Wednesday night. Nebraska hasn't won a Big 12 road game since the end of the 2008-09 season, losing its past 12.
With his team's NCAA Tournament chances dwindling, Sadler said Nebraska's margin for error the rest of the season is the smallest it's been yet.
"I don't think the losses (to Kansas and Kansas State) were any big deal because of who it was against," Sadler said. "As I've said all along, there's not many teams that are going to go to Kansas State and win and there's not many teams, home or away, that are going to beat Kansas and Texas. We're fortunate to have one more shot against (Texas) at home.
"The games (you have to win) are, let's face it, all the teams except Texas. You do what you need to do in those ball games and you're going to be rewarded. If you don't win those ball games, then you're not going to get rewarded. It's that simple."
Around the rim
***After sitting out Wednesday's game against Kansas State, junior center Andre Almeida started over Diaz against Kansas. Almeida had four rebounds and a block in 12 minutes of action, while Diaz played 24 minutes off the bench and scored eight points with three rebounds.
"That was just a decision we made today," Sadler said, giving no further explanation for the lineup shift.
***Sadler said one of the biggest differences in the game was the amount of times Kansas's post players got to the free throw line compared to Nebraska's. The Morris twins and Robinson shot a combined 13-of-20 from the line on Saturday, where as Diaz, Almeida and Ubel were a combined 2-for-3.
"We need to be more physical than that," Sadler said. "We have to get our inside guys going to the free throw line. You can't have their inside guys beating you on that statistic, and to me that's a big statistic we've got to get better at. We've got to get fouled down there."
***Kansas's 54.2 percent shooting from the field made it just the second team in 22 games to shoot better than 50 percent against Nebraska this season.
**After Nebraska held KU to a season-low 63 points and nearly pulled off the upset in the first meeting this season in Lawrence, Kansas head coach Bill Self said he definitely used the first game as motivation for his team as they prepared for the Huskers the second time around.
"In a strange way, the first game helped us today because, and our guys know this, they controlled the game," Self said. "Nebraska controlled that last game for 25 minutes and they were by far the way superior team in our building. I think there was a respect standpoint where we knew that they could beat us if we didn't give it a great effort. I think the first game was good for preparation for this game."
***Self talked about coaching his last game at the Devaney Center for what could be a very long time.
"We had some success here lately," he said. "They beat us bad my first year here. We like coming up here. I think the crowd is good; it's a respectful crowd. This is a good venue for us to come play and I'll miss that. I don't know when we'll be able to play them again. I know scheduling; there will be some scheduling issues that probably won't allow it to happen in the foreseeable future."