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February 22, 2011

Huskers remain grounded, focused on Kansas State

With the last pieces of confetti probably still falling from Nebraska's stunning upset win over then-No. 3 Texas on Saturday, it's understandable that the Huskers were still feeling pretty good about themselves when they returned to practice on Monday.

Once practice started, however, one of the biggest wins in recent Husker memory immediately became a thing of the past.

Now that Nebraska (18-8 overall, 6-6 Big 12) has put itself in the middle of the NCAA Tournament bubble discussion, the next four games will determine whether NU can earn its first Tournament appearance since 1998. With that in mind, Sadler is making sure his team has its attention squarely on playing Kansas State on Wednesday night.

"The issue that you have (as a coach) is you have to make sure your players understand that all that (attention) is good, they deserve it and I'm happy for them, but it's over," head coach Doc Sadler said. "As a coach, now you get to be a jerk again. As Coach (Don) Haskins used to say, I'm probably going to have a team today that's a little chesty. Hopefully that's not the case, but if it is then you've got to be the guy that tells them that maybe they're not as great as they think they are."

The good thing for the Huskers, Sadler said, was that they had a full day and a half to enjoy their stunning upset, which has been replayed and recapped in every major media outlet countless times since. Rather than have the three-day turnaround of a Wednesday game to a Saturday game, Nebraska had time to let the hoopla settle down a bit before returning to the court on Monday.

Talking with the players before Monday's practice, it was clear they had already begun to move on from Saturday's upset and started shifting their attention solely to Kansas State, a team also still fighting for its Tournament life.

"We celebrated on Saturday, but now it's time to move on," junior guard Brandon Richardson said. "You can't sit there and boast about it. These next four games are important, and it starts on Wednesday. The win against Texas was big, but this game against K-State is even bigger. We've got to get our minds right and go to battle on Wednesday.

"Our focus has to be even bigger and better now. The first time we played K-State, we didn't do so well. They out-played us, from the loose ball plays to just out-working us. Wednesday night, we'll have to have every bit of energy and intensity we need to try and pull out another win. It's not going to be easy."

To say Nebraska didn't do so well would be a fairly large understatement for what happened in the first meeting with the Wildcats down in Manhattan, Kan., on Feb. 2. The Huskers were out-rebounded 36-25, including 10-5 on the offensive glass, and committed a season-high 22 turnovers, their most since turning it over 20 times last year, coincidentally, at Kansas State.

That game definitely has been an easy source of motivation for the Huskers, as Sadler has made it a point to remind them just how poorly they played in what he called easily their worst loss of the season.

"They whipped us physically on both ends of the court," Sadler said. "They out-rebounded us, they got to the free throw line, they made more free throws than we shot, so they were just the more aggressive basketball team."

As he's maintained throughout the entire season, Sadler said Wednesday night's game against Kansas State would be Nebraska's biggest of the year simply for the lone reason that it was the next game on the schedule.

With just four games left in the regular season and an NCAA Tournament berth there for the taking, though, saying this will be the Huskers' most important game yet isn't that far of a stretch.

"If you're not able to move beyond that last ball game, then you're just going to be shooting yourself in the foot," Sadler said. "You've got to hope that each and every game that you play from here on out is much bigger than the one that you played before… It was a good win, there's no doubt about that, but it was only a good win because you're playing a team that's got a chance to win a national championship. You don't get a chance to play those teams every day.

"But again, the next game that we play is going to be bigger than the game the we just got done playing, so we better get ready for it… The biggest message is guys, we've got to go back to work. I'm not even going to talk about Wednesday, I'm going to talk about let's get better today. That's what we need to do."



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