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February 2, 2012

Wildcats top Huskers in 84-74 shootout

As has been the case for Nebraska ever since the start of Big Ten Conference play, any momentum the Huskers gained from last week's win over Iowa quickly vanished against Northwestern on Thursday night.

After a flurry of 3-pointers to start the game by the Wildcats, the Huskers found themselves having to overcome not one but two double-digit deficits. While NU was able to come back once, it couldn't make enough plays down the stretch to do it a second time, eventually falling to Northwestern 84-74.

The Wildcats hit 14 3-pointers, including 10 in the first half, and made 24 free throws compared to just seven by Nebraska. The Huskers have still yet to win consecutive conference games this season.

"You're not going to go on the road and give up 84 points and win very many basketball games," head coach Doc Sadler said during his post-game radio show on the Husker Sports Network. "We didn't defend the 3-point shot at all. I mean, offensively, we did OK. We scored 70 points, but you're not going to win the basketball game giving up 84 points, that's the bottom line."

While Nebraska (11-10 overall, 3-7 Big Ten) didn't necessarily play all that bad in the first half, Northwestern (13-8, 3-6) was simply lights out in its shooting from beyond the arc.

Behind the most impressive 20 minutes of perimeter shooting the Huskers had faced all season, the Wildcats connected on 10-of-22 3-pointers which accounted for 30 of their 41 first half points.

All five Northwestern starters made at least one 3 in the half, led by three from senior forward John Shurna, who came into the game as the Big Ten's leading scorer and finished the night with a game-high 28 points.

It also didn't help Nebraska that it went 5:25 at one point without scoring a single point, allowing the Wildcats to go on a 17-4 run to close out the half with their biggest lead yet at 41-26.

The Huskers even spotted Northwestern with three extra points with just 0.2 left before halftime, as junior guard Dylan Talley fouled David Sobolewski on a desperation 3, and Sobolewski hit all three free throws to increase the lead to 15 going into the locker room.

"We didn't defend," Sadler said. "As a basketball team tonight, we did not defend Northwestern. Obviously we (the coaches) didn't get the message across to them (the players), but you cannot win giving up 84 points on the road. You can't do it."

While it seemed Northwestern had taken all of the momentum in the first half, though, Nebraska came out in the second half and took it right back.

The Wildcats missed their first seven shots coming out of halftime, and the Huskers came out firing and kicked off the half with a 12-1 run and cut the deficit to four points on a 3-pointer by senior guard Bo Spencer with a little over 16 minutes left.

Nebraska eventually got it back down to thee after a lay-up by senior guard Caleb Walker with 12:21 to play, marking the closest NU had been since the 7:41 mark of the first half.

The Huskers made 10 of their first 11 field goals during the rally, while the Wildcats opened the second half just 3-of-12 from the field.

Senior guard Brandon Richardson made it a one-point game less than a minute later on a steal and lay-up, and it looked like the Huskers were about to pull off yet another double-digit comeback win on the road.

All of a sudden, it was back to a 10-point Northwestern lead.

After sputtering out of the gates to start the second half, the Wildcats caught fire with roughly 10 minutes remaining and went on a 10-2 run to bump their lead back up to 65-55 with 8:16 left to play.

Nebraska did its part offensively to try and mount one more double-digit rally, it couldn't find a way to come up with stops on the defensive end. Northwestern went on to lead by at least 10 points for the next five minutes and led 73-61 after a bucket by Drew Crawford with 5:40 left.

When the game got inside of three minutes, Nebraska's defense picked up the intensity with a full-court press that forced the Wildcats into four turnovers in a span of five possessions. That resulted in an 11-2 run by the Huskers that cut the score to 75-72 with just 1:36 to go after a 3-pointer by Spencer.

After a lay-up by Shurna made it a five-point game again on Northwestern's next possession, the Huskers had a chance to cut it back down to a one-score game when McCray was fouled and sent to the line for a one-and-one with 58.6 on the clock.

McCray missed his first attempt, however, and Sobolewski hauled in the rebound and was quickly fouled with 51.5 to play. He made both of his free throws, and the Wildcats would go on to seal the game at the line the rest of the way.

Northwestern made 19 of its final 21 free throw attempts, including making 13 in a row at one point late in the second half. The Wildcats went 24-of-29 as a team from the charity stripe, while Nebraska was only 7-of-9.

Spencer led NU with 24 points despite a rough start to the game, while McCray followed up with 16 points and Talley added 13.

They were no match for duo of Shurna and Crawford, though, as Crawford also chipped in 21 to go along with Shurna's 28. The Wildcats ended the night 14-of-32 from beyond the arc.

"Bottom line is I didn't do good enough job of preparing them (the Huskers) on guarding the call screens," Sadler said. "We went underneath it, we went underneath it - they made 10 3s in the first half. They've got two guys that's averaging double figures that you've got to stop, and they get 49 points.

"We didn't do a good enough job of understanding what we needed to do, and that's with me, that we allowed them to score 84 points. Whatever the reason is, it doesn't matter." Nebraska won't have much time to dwell on Thursday night's loss, as the Huskers return to action again on Sunday when they play host to Minnesota at 12 p.m.



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