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January 9, 2012

Huskers facing far more problems than answers

Sitting at 0-4 in Big Ten Conference play and in sole possession of last place in the league standings, it goes without saying that Nebraska has dealt with its share of issues already this season.

First and foremost, offense has been a rare commodity for the Huskers. Not only are they averaging a league-worst 61.6 points per game on the year, they're also only scoring 47.2 ppg against the Big Ten.

Unfortunately for Nebraska, its scoring problems are just one of several glaring issues that need to be addressed. In all four of NU's conference losses, you can look at the box score and easily identify a different area that most directly led to the loss.

Take Saturday's loss at Illinois, for example: while the Huskers played well enough to win in nearly every aspect, 20 turnovers almost single handedly killed any chance of picking up their first conference victory.

In its loss to Ohio State, the Buckeyes had more rebounds as a team (44) than Nebraska had points (40). Michigan State took a close game at halftime and broke it open with a 20-4 run to start the second half from which the Huskers could not recover. Against Wisconsin, the Badgers hit 11 3-pointers compared to just three by NU.

With so many problem areas needing be fixed, head coach Doc Sadler said it's been difficult to spend enough time just focusing on one factor like shooting or rebounding when others have proved equally as costly.

"I think when you're 0-4, there's always going to be issues depending on who you're playing," Sadler said during Monday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "You play Wisconsin, they cause you certain problems. You play Michigan State, they cause you certain problems. There's some holes right now that need to get filled.

"Until we get consistent with all the different ones, then you're going to continue to have issues. But I think as long as you give the effort and the attitude and the enthusiasm, then I do think the other things will come around."

The one encouraging factor to come from the most recent loss to Illinois was that in spite of NU's mistakes, it was still in a position to beat a good Big Ten team on the road.

Sadler said he couldn't have been happier with the effort the Huskers showed the entire game against the Fighting Illini, which maybe couldn't be said in their three previous blowout conference losses.

Nebraska will have easily its best chance yet to finally pick up that elusive first Big Ten victory when Penn State (9-8 overall, 1-3 in Big Ten) comes to Lincoln on Wednesday night. As long as the Huskers can find a way to bring the same energy to the Devaney Center court against the Nittany Lions that they did against Illinois, Sadler said his team's hard work is bound to pay off at some point.

"I was pleased that for 40 minutes our guys not necessarily played that well, but we played very, very hard (against Illinois)," Sadler said. "As long as we continue to do that, we continue to give the effort - I thought our enthusiasm was good, I thought our attitude was great - those three things, even though we've come up short on the scoreboard, if we can continue to give those three things, I think things will at some point balance themselves out with wins and losses."

Around the rim

***Sadler said he's been very pleased with the way senior guard Toney McCray has stepped up in recent weeks even while having to play out of position at the 4 spot while junior center Jorge Brian Diaz has been out with a foot injury. McCray is third on the team in scoring with 10.5 ppg and second with 4.7 rebounds per game.

"Toney's done a good job," Sadler said "Again, he's playing a position that can create some mismatches for us offensively, and he's taking advantage of those. But Toney's been one of our best scorers, and hopefully he'll continue to make some shots."

***Senior guard Brandon Richardson has also picked his game up lately. In Nebraska's past two games, Richardson has scored at least 10 points both times and has averaged 5.0 steals.

"Brandon being a senior, you expect that out of him," Sadler said. "I mean, he's probably been one of our most consistent players all year. Even though he's not scoring a lot, he's not turning it over and he's doing all the things that you ask him to do. He's without a doubt our best defender right now. That is definitely a positive for our basketball team is the play that Brandon is giving us.

"You're not going to get that many steals unless you're playing very, very hard, and he is doing that. If he continues to do the things he's doing, then maybe he'll start hitting some shots or taking some shots, because Brandon can really shoot the basketball. If we can get him going a little bit more on offense, then he will be no doubt one of most consistent players."



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