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February 18, 2011

Many Huskers in new territory during final stretch

The reality of Wednesday night's win over Oklahoma hadn't quite set in yet for Nebraska nearly 24 hours after the fact.

Needless to say, there was still plenty of enthusiasm and relief floating around the Huskers' locker room on Thursday after finally putting an end to their embarrassing 13-game Big 12 road losing streak in Norman, Okla., the night before.

"I actually didn't even sleep (on the plane back to Lincoln) because I had a smile on my face from that road win," junior guard Caleb Walker said.

But as much as finally getting that monkey of their backs meant for the Huskers, it's not as if they get the luxury of spending much time basking in the glory of their accomplishment.

In case you hadn't heard, No. 3 Texas is coming to town on Saturday.

With the win over Oklahoma, Nebraska improved to 17-8 overall and 5-6 in Big 12 play, putting itself in a three-way tie for sixth place in the current league standings.

Coincidentally, the Huskers still get to play two of the teams they're tied with yet this season when they host Kansas State and go to Colorado.

That means that for the majority of players on NU's roster, this marks the first time in their collegiate careers that a game this late in February still means so much more than simply playing for pride.

Of the 18 players on Nebraska's roster, only juniors Toney McCray and Brandon Richardson have played in meaningful games this late in the season when the Huskers finished 8-8 in Big 12 play in 2008-09.

"That was the first Big 12 road victory I've had since I've been here, so that was definitely a new, cool experience for me," sophomore forward Brandon Ubel said. "Now you have one of the best teams in the nation coming in, and it's an opportunity for you to really get put on the map and in the talks for the Tournament.

"It's definitely a huge game, that's for sure."

Head coach Doc Sadler said he's made it a point to talk with the Huskers about the grind the month of February can be for teams trying to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

To help keep his players as fresh and possible, Sadler said he's cut back on the length of practices during the week, as Nebraska only practiced for no more than 45 minutes on Thursday.

At this point, he said, every team in the country is tired, sore and beat up from already playing more than 20 regular season games. It's the ones who can tough it out and bring their best every game the rest of the way that succeed in the end.

"We've talked enough about it and we talk about it each day," Sadler said. "That's what it is. If you're not still grinding at this point, it's usually not good.

"Let's face it these guys - a couple of them went through it two years ago, so those guys may remember a little bit of it - but for the most part this team has never been through the grind where it's still important."



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