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December 22, 2009Though Nebraska has played a few tough road games already this season, none will likely compare to what it's going to be up against the next two days.
Starting with a 4:30 p.m. (CST) tip-off against preseason Conference USA favorite Tulsa (9-1), the Huskers will open their toughest two-game stretch of the season at the Las Vegas Classic tonight.
After taking on the Golden Hurricane (9-1) tonight, Nebraska (8-2) will take on either BYU (10-1) or Nevada (6-4) on Wednesday night.
With the start of Big 12 play just around the corner, the tournament should be a good preview of what to expect when the conference schedule gets underway. At the same time, it will also arguably be the most difficult challenge of the season thus far.
"It's a very good field," Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler said. "We have been in a situation where we have been in some tough situations on the road already, so that part of it works in our favor. The games that we play out there, no matter who we play against, are going to be very, very good ball games."
Up first on the tournament slate is Tulsa, which has jumped out to a red-hot start to open the year and is steadily making a push towards becoming a top-25 team. The Golden Hurricane are averaging 86 points per game in their past four contests, including an 86-65 win over Oklahoma State three weeks ago.
Should the Huskers find a way to knock off the Golden Hurricane, they will face the winner of BYU and Nevada. BYU will have a considerable advantage in that many of its fans will already be in town seeing as the Cougars' football team is playing in Las Vegas Bowl tonight.
Not that they need much help, though. The Cougars have already registered wins over Arizona State and Fresno State, and their one loss came on the road against instate rival Utah State. Like Tulsa, BYU enters the tournament standing just outside the door of the top-25.
Should the Huskers end up playing Nevada on Wednesday, they'll face a Wolfpack team that has gotten off to a bit of a slow start this season. Nevada's best game of the year arguably came in a 10-point road loss to No. 10 North Carolina.
Whoever its opponent ends up being, Nebraska will play at 7 p.m. (CST) if they lose to Tulsa and 9:30 p.m. if they win.
For the Huskers, the obvious goal is to make sure their second-round game tips off at 9:30, whoever their opponent may be.
"We want to come out 2-0," junior guard Lance Jeter said. "We want to finish strong before the Big 12, so we want to make sure we play good against a good Tulsa team and keep going from there. We're going to prepare for them, and hopefully we come out with two wins."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Nebraska's defense hasn't faced a hotter offense this season than what it's going to see tonight against Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane have score at least 75 points in their past seven games, highlighted by a 92-39 romp of Jackson State - a team NU managed just 57 points against on Saturday. The Huskers have held their past three opponents to 44 points or less during their recent three-game losing streak, but none of those team featured three players averaging more than 14 points per game like Tulsa.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE HUSKERS:
Junior forward Quincy Hankins-Cole finally showed the production down low Nebraska has been waiting for since the start of the season in Saturday's win over Jackson State. While the rest of the Huskers struggled on the offensive end, Hankins-Cole was able to score a game-high 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE GOLDEN HURRICANE:
Tulsa's 7-foot center Jerome Jordan will literally be Nebraska's biggest test yet, as Jordan has owned the paint on both ends of the floor this season. He ranks in the top-10 nationally in blocked shots with 3.5 per game. He's also averaging 14.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest.