February 19, 2009

Huskers pull out ugly but important win over CU

There weren't many positives Nebraska could take away from one of its worst offensive performances of the season Wednesday night against Colorado.

Really, there was only one good thing about it - the Buffaloes were even worse.

Despite mustering up just 46 points on 34.8 shooting from the field, the Huskers were able to sneak away with a 46-41 win over CU at the Devaney Center in front of a crowd of 10,425.

Senior guard Ade Dagunduro was the lone offensive bright spot, scoring a game-high 18 points and hauling in a team-high six rebounds. No other Husker scored in double figures.

As ugly as it may have been aesthetically speaking, it was still a win for NU at the end of the day. With the victory, the Huskers improve to 16-7 overall and 6-5 in the Big 12 Conference, putting them in a three-way tie for fourth place with Texas and Kansas State for fourth place in the league.

"I know to some people that was a very up-and-down, interesting basketball game," head coach Doc Sadler said, tongue in cheek. "I am just as happy as can be to have gotten that win and be 6-5. I was worried about this game. It was a huge game."

After leading by five at halftime, Nebraska finally appeared to break away midway through the second half with a 9-2 run that gave it a 38-30 advantage with 6:18 to play. As they did the entire game, however, the Buffaloes refused to go away quietly.

Colorado put together an 8-3 run of its own to pull within 41-38 with 3:30 to go, as the Huskers made just two field goals during a seven and a half-minute span to help CU's cause.

Finally, Dagunduro gave Nebraska a much needed spark with 2:25 remaining when he converted a 3-point play the old fashioned way to put the Huskers up 44-38 with 2:25 on the clock. Following a pair of CU free throws with 1:25 to go that made the score 44-40, senior guard Steve Harley air balled a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left and gave Colorado a chance to make it a one-score game.

Buffalo forward Austin Dufault by NU's Ryan Anderson with 11.4 seconds left and sent to the line, but only hit 1-of-2 free throws to make it 44-41. Nebraska's Paul Velander was fouled and sent to the line on the ensuing inbound pass, and he drained both of them to put the Huskers back up 46-41.

The Buffaloes missed a lay-up at the buzzer, and the Huskers escaped with an ugly but very important victory.

"Definitely a sigh of relief," Dagunduro said. "I don't think we played our best ball, particularly myself. But we got the win, so we're happy with that… It was a little bit frustrating. We thought we had those guys early in the first half, but like we've said, Big 12 games are going to come down to the last five minutes, so you can't expect to blow any team out. It's just not going to happen unless you get lucky here and there.

"We did a good job of not breaking. They did a good job of battling back, and we stayed on top the whole game."

With the win, Nebraska completed just its third season sweep of a Big 12 North opponent since the 2000-01 season. The previous two came against the Buffaloes in 04-05 and Missouri in 06-07.

Nebraska now shifts its attention to its trip to Lawrence, Kan., on Saturday for rematch with the Jawhawks. With their NCAA Tournament hopes still alive, the Huskers are well aware they control their own postseason destiny.

"Wow," Sadler said of being tied for fourth in the Big 12 this late in the season. "I like it a lot. It's better than being what we would've been had we lost. It was a huge game, but as I told the team, we've got an opportunity. It's not going to be easy going to Kansas on Saturday, but as I told the team, it wasn't easy for Kansas to come here and win either."

Dagunduro not satisfied with performance

He may have nearly half of Nebraska's 46 points, but Dagunduro wasn't exactly happy with his individual performance on Wednesday night.

Despite scoring 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting and hitting all four of his free throws, Dagunduro said the shots he didn't make put a damper on his personal evaluation.

"I mean, I'm happy obviously with the point production, but at the same time, I was a little soft out there, getting my shot blocked a little more than usual," he said. "I wasn't happy with myself."

The plays in particular that frustrated him the most with the missed lay-ups and shots near the basket that could've given the Huskers the offensive spark they were looking for, especially in the first half.

Sadler agreed with Dagunduro's assessment, saying he could've easily score more than 20 points had he made the shots he probably should have hit.

"I thought he did some good things, but I also thought he missed some easy baskets," Sadler said. "Our guys were giving him the basketball in scoring position. You score points, you've got to complement your teammates for getting you the basketball, and I think our guys got him the basketball in position to score. I really think he had six or eight points that were gimmes that he didn't finish."

Though he struggled to capitalize at times throughout the game, Dagunduro came up with some big plays down the stretch that helped keep the Huskers in the lead and hold on for the win. With 11:17 left in the game and NU leading just 29-28, he converted an And-1 3-pointer that sparked a 9-2 run.

Later on, he scored five straight points inside of 3:40, including another bucket and free throw with 2:25 remaining.

"Coach told me, 'You've got to make plays,'" Dagunduro said. "I was out there, and I wasn't making plays for the team. So I just made an extra effort to be more assertive, and the guys got me in good position and passed me the ball to where I could get an And-1."

Huskers play "as good as they can play defensively"

While the scoring wasn't anything to brag about, Nebraska's play defensively certainly was. Along with forcing 16 turnovers, NU held Colorado to shoot just 31 percent from the floor.

The Huskers were able to hold Colorado's two top scorers - Cory Higgins and Dwight Thorne - to a combined 19 points. In their first meeting in Boulder, Thorne scored 21 by himself, while Higgins finished with 17.

The Buffaloes' 41 points were also the fewest the Huskers have allowed against a conference opponent since the 1984 Big Eight Tournament against Oklahoma.

"I mean, you hold Higgins to 12 and hold Thorne to seven, and you hold their team to 41 - if you can't win at home giving up 41, it just wasn't meant to be," Sadler said. "I thought defensively, we were pretty good. I thought we were really good defensively. About as good as we can play defensively."

Sadler also pointed out the play of junior guard Sek Henry on the defensive end. Though he played just 18 minutes because of early foul trouble, Sadler said Henry's ability to lock down Higgins and Thorne when he was in helped Nebraska's defense as much as anything all night.

"I thought Sek was off to a good start," Sadler said. "I thought he played well, especially in the first half, in spite of the three fouls. I thought Sek did a terrific job on Higgins and Thorne when he was on them. His length was really bothering them. I say it bothered them, he did as good of a job as you can do."

Sadler praises Richardson's aggressive play

In case you didn't catch his name or jersey number, that was redshirt freshman guard Brandon Richardson out there making one diving play on the ball after another Wednesday night.

As he's done in the past, Richardson ignored his injured right shoulder and went all out against the Buffaloes, finishing with two steals in a career-high 24 minutes of playing time. Had they kept track of number of times on the floor, he likely would've registered a game high.

"Brandon's doing everything," Sadler said. "Everybody early in the year talked about Brandon diving on the floor, I think in the first couple of minutes he was in the game you saw him on the floor twice. That's plays you can't even talk about how important they are. That's the kind of energy Brandon Richardson brings."

Lineup changes permanent?

Sadler unveiled a different starting lineup on Wednesday, starting Velander and Anderson over usual starters Cookie Miller and Chris Balham, respectively.

In Anderson's case, Sadler said the move was made because Balham removed himself from the lineup even before pre-game warm-ups because his surgically repaired knees was hurting him too much to play.

Anderson took Balham's place, and as a result, Velander did the same for Miller. Sadler said he needed to find a way to replace the energy Anderson brought off the bench, and he decided that Miller was the best man for the job.

While the move was essentially made at the last minute, Sadler didn't rule out it becoming permanent.

"I don't know," Sadler said. "I don't know what I'm going to do. I like that team, because that's what we were doing early. Cookie brings some energy. He and Brandon bring tremendous energy. Usually Ryan's the guy that brings the energy (off of the bench), but now that I'm starting him, I've got to find somebody to bring the energy that Ryan brought.

"As I've said all along, Ryan's got a lot of great qualities, but his greatest quality is his spirit. Now I've got to find somebody that can bring that same kind of spirit."

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