February 24, 2009

Aggies first of several must-wins for Nebraska

You could call tonight's game against Texas A&M a must-win for Nebraska in terms of keeping its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.


But really, you could say the same thing about each of its four remaining regular season games.




PREGAME NOTES


Tip: 8:31 p.m. CST

Where: Bob Devaney Sports Center (13,595)

Head Coach: Doc Sadler 3rd yr (53-36 overall)

Radio: Husker Sports Radio Network stations (Play-by-play: Kent Pavelka. Color: Matt Davison.)


TV: ESPN2 (Play-by-play: Bob Wischusen. Color: Doug Gottlieb.)

Series: Nebraska leads 11-5






After dropping a pair of blowout losses at Missouri and Kansas, the Huskers have left themselves with little if any room for error as far as making the Big Dance goes. At 16-9 overall and 6-6 in the Big 12 Conference, another loss could easily spell the end of NU's tournament dreams.


So, beginning tonight against the Aggies, Nebraska has its back against the wall for its final four games.


"Ain't nobody really talking about us," junior guard Sek Henry said. "I know we've got to take each game one game at a time, but I believe we have to win every game. If we win every game, then there's no choice but for them to put us in. But if we lose some of these games, it's like a flip of a coin, and we don't want that. We want that to be on us."


Along with Texas A&M, Nebraska closes out its regular season at Kansas State, then home against Iowa State and on the road at Baylor. It certainly won't be easy, but one could make the argument that there's no reason the Huskers couldn't win out and reach the 20-win mark on the year.


While being in a must-win situation like this comes with more than its share of pressure, it also forces the Huskers to give focus all of their efforts on the next game and only the next game.






Texas A&M (19-8, 5-7 Big 12)

8:31 p.m.


Nebraska (16-9, 6-6 Big 12)

ESPN2






























PROJECTED STARTERS



Nebraska 16-9




Pos

#

Name

Yr

Pts/reb

G

5

Sek Henry (6-3, 200)

Jr

8.6/3.1

G

4

Steve Harley (5-11, 180)

Sr

10.7/3.5

G

11

Ade Dagunduro (6-5, 200)

Sr

12.0/4.3

G

24

Cookie Miller (5-7, 165)

Jr

7.3/2.2

F

32

Chris Balham (6-8, 235)

Jr

2.2/2.6





Texas A&M 19-8




Pos

#

Name

Yr

Pts/reb

G

3

Derrick Roland (6-4, 185)

Jr

5.9/2.8

G

15

Donald Sloan (6-3, 205)

Jr

11.4/3.0

G

23

Josh Carter (6-7, 200)

Sr

13.5/4.1

F

0

Bryan Davis (6-9, 240)

Jr

10.6/6.3

C

41

Chinemelu Elonu (6-10, 235)

Jr

10.4/7.6






"I think the rest of the season in big games, and this one is a real big game," sophomore guard Cookie Miller said. "This might be a must-win for us. We're at home, and we can't let them come in here and steal a win from us. We really have to be up to par in this one."


The first task in closing out the regular season with four straight wins is beating a Texas A&M team that in Sadler's opinion has played as well as anyone in the conference lately.


One of the biggest teams in the league, the Aggies base their identity on physical play on both ends of the floor. Led by forward Bryan Davis (6-foot-9, 240 pounds) and center Chinemelu Elonu (6-10, 235), A&M makes it tough for any team to get establish an offensive presence in the post, let alone a team as short as Nebraska.


On offense, the Aggies love to get the ball into their big men or drive to the paint with their bigger-than-average guards - specifically 6-7 guard and leading scorer Josh Carter. As a result, A&M has been able to get to the free throw line more times (697) than any team in the league other than Oklahoma (710).


Even more impressive is that with 697 free throw attempts, A&M's opponents have attempted just 451. On Saturday, the Aggies shot a staggering 51 free throws in a 79-73 victory over Texas Tech, compared to just 22 by the Red Raiders.


"I think A&M's one of the most talented teams that's in this league, especially inside," head coach Doc Sadler said. "They are really, really, really good at getting the ball to the free throw line. If you look at the number of makes compared to what their opponents have shot, it's almost identical."


It certainly won't be an easy task, but then again, nothing has been easy for Nebraska this season. Despite already exceeding the expectations of many by even being in the mix for the NCAA Tournament this late in the year, the Huskers' aren't ready to settle for simply a moral victory.


That's why they only plan on worrying about the things they can control.


"I don't have a vote (for the NCAA Tournament)," Sadler said. "If I had a vote, we've already done enough. But I don't have a vote, so we've got to get ready for Texas A&M. All that other stuff takes care of itself."


WHAT TO LOOK FOR:


Three days after Kansas completely dominated them on the boards 46-24, the Huskers are going to have to find a way to be more competitive in the rebounding department tonight. The Aggies feature an even bigger and arguably more aggressive frontcourt than KU, meaning Nebraska's lack of size will be tested once again.


The trio of Carter, Davis and Elonu is currently averaging 18 rebounds a game this season, meaning the Huskers will have to focus as much as ever at boxing out and establishing good position in the post to stay competitive under the glass.


WHO'S HOT FOR THE HUSKERS


It wasn't his best game of the year by any means, but it was encouraging to see senior Steve Harley finally get some confidence back offensively against the Jayhawks.


Though he finished with just 11 points, Harley shot 5-of-11 from the floor, including a big 3-pointer that helped end a big KU scoring run. It will be interesting to see if he'll be able to keep progressing and re-emerge as the scoring threat the Huskers desperately need him to be.


WHO'S HOT FOR THE AGGIES


At 6-7, 200 pounds, Carter presents a number of different challenges for the Huskers. Along with averaging a team-best 13.5 points per game, the guard is also an effective rebounder for the Aggies, hauling in 4.1 a game.


On Saturday, Carter scored 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field to go along with five rebounds.



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