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February 24, 2011It's easy to say a team just has to move on after a tough loss, but Nebraska's 61-57 defeat to Kansas State on Wednesday definitely stung a little more than most.
It wasn't just the fact that the Huskers once again let turnovers and their own mistakes spoil what would have been a solid victory, but more that they let a golden opportunity to help secure their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 13 years slip through their fingers.
When the team returned to practice on Thursday to get ready for Saturday's game against Iowa State, the frustration over what could have been still lingered, but Nebraska knew it had no time to feel sorry for itself.
"Last night I was really upset about it," junior guard Brandon Richardson said. "But one thing that the coaches were preaching to us about was - because I had my head down - they said 'Pick your head up. It's not the end of the season, it's just a game that we lost.' It's hard, but at the same time, you have to adjust.
"What I mean by that is Saturday is a new day and we have a new opportunity. It's a game that we have to have, and it's going to take every bit of effort to pull it out. At the same time, it's kind of tough to bounce back because we started a roll with three-game winning streak, and we let one slip here. We just have to find a way to bounce back, and we will, I know that. I'm not concerned that we won't, because I know that we'll bounce back."
Saturday's trip to Ames, Iowa, seems like a perfect chance to get Nebraska's season back on track and keep its Tournament hopes alive - on paper at least.
The Cyclones come into the game on a 10-game losing streak and just 1-12 in Big 12 play on the year, including a 63-62 loss in Lincoln to open the conference schedule. However, six of those losses were decided by six points or less.
On top of that, Nebraska has never won in Hilton Coliseum under head coach Doc Sadler and is 3-6 against Iowa State the past five seasons.
Add in the fact that a loss all but eliminates the Huskers from the bubble discussion, and it's easy to see why Sadler is making sure his team isn't treating Wednesday's loss to Kansas State any differently than any other loss.
"It better not be (any different)," Sadler said. "The thing is, again, you're in a situation where you hear, you listen, whatever, that you've got to do this or do that (to make the Tournament), and I don't think anybody knows what you've got to do, because I think there's probably 25 teams in the same situation we're in.
"The last two or three games are going to decide a lot of things. I don't think anything ever changes. I think you've got to wait until the very end to see what happens. Would we like to be 6-7 before the season at this point? Probably 7-6 would have been better. If we were 7-6 we'd probably be really happy. If you go and look it, was 6-7 about where you thought you'd be right now? Maybe. So you've got to play out the whole season to see where it all ends up."
Around the rim
***Just to be clear, Eshaunte Jones' intentionally missed free throw with 13 seconds left on Wednesday was not some wild idea he came up with all on his own. After missing his first free throw, Sadler called a play the Huskers had worked on in practice to intentionally miss the second shot in order to get an chance at an offensive rebound.
Even though the play didn't go anything how it was supposed to - Jones' shot bounced off the side of the rim and straight out of bounds - Sadler said he would call the same play again if he had the chance to do it over.
"Looking back on the free throw that I told Bear to miss, I thought maybe we could get a - obviously I didn't know they were going to miss their free throws either - I thought that was an opportunity," Sadler said. "I'd do that again with 13 seconds, because it gives you a chance maybe to get a basket or a foul or something."
***Speaking of free throws, converting from the charity stripe was a glaring problem for the second game in a row on Wednesday. After hitting 8-of-9 free throws in the first half, Nebraska shot just 55.6 percent (10-of-18) from the line in the second half, including missing their final five of the game.
In Saturday's win over Texas, the Huskers only hit 70.6 (12-of-17) of their free throws in the second half, including going just 6-of-11 in the final 2:36 of the game.
Richardson, who has been Nebraska's most consistent free throw shooter this season, didn't have an explanation for the Huskers' struggles at the line, but was sure they would correct the problem.
"I have confidence in every guy that goes to the free throw line," Richardson said. "We practice free throws every day at the end of practice because we know we're tired, but at the same time that's exactly the situation you have in games.
"I don't know. It's unfortunately that it's happened, but I have all the confidence in the world in each of my teammates going to the free throw line because we work on it every day in practice. We just have to keep working at it."