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February 13, 2012The past 10 days have been as rough as any in head coach Doc Sadler's six seasons at Nebraska.
Having dropped four straight losses in a span of less than two weeks, the Huskers find themselves at the bottom of the Big Ten Conference standings with just five games remaining on the regular-season schedule.
Nebraska's last legitimate chance of making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998 at this point would be to make one last run and winning the conference tournament.
Sadler, however, isn't looking that far down the road. With a team desperate for something to feel good about again, he knows full well that these next five games are the only things matter.
"Obviously last week was a big week for us with the four games in 10 days, and we played some good basketball but we didn't play 40 minutes of good basketball in any game," Sadler said during Monday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "In this league, I think especially right now you see that if you don't come with a full 40 minutes you're probably not going to be successful.
"Bottom line is we're disappointed at this point, but we've got five games left? The thing I told the team was, you know, basically I think four or five of these teams that we've still got to play are teams that are really, really competing in the league and needing a win to get in the tournament. So we better get ready to play, because no one's going to be feeling sorry for us."
As frustrating as these past four losses have been, there were a couple positives Sadler could take away from the otherwise forgettable stretch.
One of those has been the re-emergence of junior guard Dylan Talley. While he's had to play through lingering thigh injuries since before the season even started, Talley was just starting to get into a bit of a groove towards the end of non-conference play before re-aggravating his injury and missing five games.
He's slowly been getting back to the level he was earlier in the year since returning to action at Illinois back on Jan. 7, and over the past two games Sadler said Talley has been playing as well as he has all season.
The Camden, N.J., native led the Huskers with 12 points in Saturday's loss to Penn State, marking the ninth time he's scored in double figures this season. He also has three made 3-pointers in each of the past two games.
"Dylan is one of those players who I thought was really starting to play well, and (he) had the basically month he wasn't able to practice, and his conditioning was very, very affected," Sadler said. "Just recently in the last game or two he's started playing like he was prior to Christmas. It's not a surprise. It was just difficult for him to come in the first year more or less with an injury. So he's had an up-and-down year, but overall I've really liked Dylan and I think he has a chance to be a very, very fine player for us over the next five games and then post-season play and obviously next season."
Another bright spot of late has been senior guard Caleb Walker. In putting his athleticism on display with some highlight reel dunks and alley-oops, Walker scored 10 points against the Nittany Lions for just his second game in double figures since the start of Big Ten play and his first since NU's win over Penn State back on Jan. 11.
"Caleb has been one of those guys that's showed up each and every day to go to work," Sadler said. "We've got some easy baskets for him against some pressure defense and got some easy looks and went to the offensive glass. We've been trying to do a couple things different and open up the floor, and that's probably helped him a little but more than the other guys."
Now 13 games into his first season in the Big Ten, Sadler was again to ask his impressions of Nebraska's new league compared to what it saw before in the Big 12 Conference.
Obviously the unfamiliarity of a schedule full of new opponents was the biggest difference, but Sadler went on to say he's been far more impressed with the overall team play of the Big Ten.
"It's a totally different game than what we've been used to," Sadler said. "This is definitely a possession league. It's a league that if you don't have easy opportunities, then you better be ready to grind for 20, 25, 30 seconds every possession. That part of it probably, and I've told a lot of people, individual talent in the Big 12 probably in the last five or six years has probably been better, but I'm not for sure that the teams have been.
"I think this league this year from top to bottom has been very, very difficult, and it's one that doesn't beat themselves. Four- or five-point wins are like 15-point wins in other leagues. It is definitely different, and it's something that we've got to try and adjust to, that's for sure."