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February 18, 2012

Gameday: Nebraska vs. Illinois

Nebraska Cornhuskers

vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012 - 4:00 p.m. CT
TV: Big Ten Network / RADIO: IMG Husker Sports Radio Network

Illinois (16-10, 5-8 Big Ten)
Streak: Lost 4
Last Game: Lost to Purdue 67-62
G Tracy Abrams (had 22 points in loss to Purdue) Fr. 6-1 185
G D.J. Richardson(averaging 12.0 ppg, shooting 37% from 3-point range) Jr. 6-3 195
G Brandon Paul (leads team with 15.4 points per game) Fr. 6-4 200
G Joseph Bertrand (had five assists against Purdue) So. 6-5 195
C Meyers Leonard (averaging 13.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 2.1 bpg) So. 7-1 245

Nebraska CornhuskersNebraska Cornhuskers (11-13, 3-10 Big Ten)
Streak: Lost 4
Last Game: Lost to Penn State 67-51
G Bo Spencer (scored just seven points in loss to Penn State) Sr. 6-2 196
G Brandon Richardson (led team with 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals vs. PSU) Sr. 6-0 190
G Caleb Walker (scored in double figures vs. PSU for first time since Jan. 11) Sr. 6-4 205
G Toney McCray (averaging 10.2 ppg and 4.8 rpg) Jr. 6-10 235
F Brandon Ubel (leads team with 5.4 rebounds per game) Jr. 6-10 235

Get back to defense

As much as Nebraska's offensive problems have been talked about over the past few weeks, head coach Doc Sadler said the biggest priority this week in practice has been getting back to the stingy defensive play his teams have thrived on over the years. The Huskers have given up an average of 72 points in their past seven games. Combine that with the fact that NU has scored just 49.3 points in its past eight contests, and it's easy to see why the team has lost eight of its past 10 outings. Obviously the loss of junior center Jorge Brian Diaz has hurt, but Nebraska must find a way to move on and step up its defense in a big way over these final five games.
Control the lane

With Diaz out of the lineup, Nebraska has had some major issues without any true post presence. When opponents have realized how easily they can get the ball inside and to the basket, the Huskers have had no answer defensively. Today, Illinois brings another bad match-up for NU in athletic 7-foot-1 center Meyers Leonard. The Huskers did a good job of containing Leonard in the first meeting this season, but there's little doubt that the Fighting Illini will make it a point to get him involved early and often. Keeping him and the rest of his teammates as far away from the basket as possible will be crucial for Nebraska, and that all starts with making sure the ball stays out of the lane.
Play with a purpose

After last week's loss to Penn State, Sadler said Nebraska wasn't playing with any purpose, and instead simply just going through the motions. While most any hope of making a miraculous run to the post-season is gone by now, the Huskers still have an opportunity - no matter how small - to make the most out of a disappointing year. At this point, NU is mostly playing for a better seed in the Big Ten Tournament. If the Huskers can put together a winning streak going into Indianapolis, who knows what they can do in the tournament with a little momentum on their side? As frustrating as this season has been, Nebraska has to stay focused on what still lies ahead.

Head coach Doc Sadler on what NU can take from its first meeting with Illinois:

"I think always when you play somebody a second time you're more prepared for them. You know their strengths and weaknesses a little bit better. We were close, but didn't get the job done. That was a disappointment, but I think probably more than anything I would suspect there would be a little more confidence maybe."
Senior guard Caleb Walker on Illinois coming in on a four-game losing streak of its own:

"I didn't even know they were struggling. I thought they were actually on a roll. But I mean, I think all teams struggle at one point, and they're facing adversity like we have this year. So they're going to come in here and try to turn it around."

Illinois 70-68

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