December 18, 2008

Huskers look to solve scoring woes against IPFW

Two games. Two solid defensive performances. Two losses.

It's been a frustrating stretch for the Nebraska basketball team the past two weeks, as despite holding their past two opponents to 64 points the Huskers have lost two straight to Pac-10 foes Arizona State and Oregon State.

In those past two games, NU shot a combined 35.2 percent from the field, including a dismal 28.9 percent against Arizona State.

While Nebraska hasn't exactly been known as an offensive powerhouse since head coach Doc Sadler took over two seasons ago, its 6-0 start to this season gave many hope that this might be the year the Huskers took their program to the next level.

Instead, they currently find themselves in the same old predicament - trying to find a consistent identity on offense.

"There's concern, but it's more of us just needing to be patient and also being more aggressive," senior guard Paul Velander said. "Doc tells us to do it, and we didn't execute. It's on us. We've got a long season, though. I know it'll get fixed."

One of the more apparent reasons for Nebraska's recent offensive struggle has been its inability to figure the zone defenses both Arizona State and Oregon State ran to great success against it.

By keeping the Huskers from running the floor and getting points in transition, both the Sun Devils and the Beavers were able to force NU to get the bulk of it offensive production from its half-court offense.

Though the Huskers have struggled in finding consistency in their half-court scoring, they had been able to mask it by getting points in bunches by forcing turnovers defensively.

The past two games, however, their turnovers forced were decreased, and the Huskers had to slow down their tempo and try and get baskets off set plays. With an average of just 53.5 points in the two losses, it's obvious that when NU is forced to hold back its transition game, its scoring takes a significant hit.

"We're better when we're pushing the ball," sophomore point guard Cookie Miller said. "I've been watching film, and you can really see that when we're pushing the ball we get into a good momentum an get the game going. We slowed the ball up a lot the last two games. Watching the tape, I don't know how many fast breaks we had, but I think we only converted on like two or three of them.

"That's the key to our game, getting on fast breaks and going. Watching the rest of the tapes, you could see we was very successful in doing that. In these games, we didn't have many opportunities to do that."

Following the loss to Arizona State, Sadler said it was crucial that the Huskers find a way to get the ball into the paint on every half-court possession. Not even to try and score down low, but just to get the ball inside to open things up on the perimeter and create some easier 3-point shots.

While that strategy may have worked a bit better in Saturday's loss to Oregon State, still struggled from 3-point range, as they hit just 5-of-18 from the outside.

Miller said that he and fellow point guard Sek Henry have taken it upon themselves to spark Nebraska's offense in the half-court set. With five games remaining before the start of Big 12 Conference play, the Huskers better hope they figure out some solution in a hurry.

"Being a point guard, I can put these game on my shoulders," Miller said. "I think it was kind of my fault. I had some turnovers early in the game that could've upped our tempo if I wouldn't have had them, and I could've penetrated a lot more than what I did. I don't know how many times I did it, but I should have did it more. I can't speak on Sek, but we talked about it, and we'll get back on track."

Huskers eager to start homestand

It's been more than three weeks since Nebraska has played a game in the Devaney Sports Center, and the Huskers couldn't be any more ready to get back home than they are right now.

After a week-long West Coast road trip in which they went 0-2, the Huskers finally get another home game on Saturday when they play host to Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne at 5 p.m. Beginning Saturday, NU actually opens a six-game homestand that lasts all the way until its Big 12 Conference opener against Missouri on Jan. 10.

"We could probably use some home cookin' right about now coming off a two-game losing streak," senior guard Ade Dagunuduro said. "Hopefully we can get back on track this Saturday."

The Huskers opened the season with six straight home games, and coincidentally started off with a 6-0 record. In fact, dating back to last season they've actually won 12 of their past 13 games at Devaney, including the past 10 in a row. The one loss during that stretch came in an overtime loss to Missouri on Feb. 13, 2006.

In the wake of two disappointing performances on the road, the Huskers will be looking to right the ship and get back to their winning ways in the comfort of their home court.

"Anytime you play at home you've got to be excited about that," Sadler said. "Anytime you go on the road in college basketball nowadays, you've got a chance to come back disappointed. Obviously we have the last two games. But we've had great practices and the guys are playing hard, so we'll see what happens."

Balham still nowhere close to 100 percent

Junior forward Chris Balham was limited once again in Thursday's practice, as his injured right knee continues to bother him and keep him off the court.

The offseason surgery Balham had on his knee has taken longer than expected to heal, and it's forced to sit out NU's past two games. On the season, Balham has played just 35 total minutes, with just four points and four rebounds to show for it.

Balham said the Nebraska training staff hasn't given him any idea of how much longer it will take his knee to heal enough for him to return to the court, as it's likely he'll be day-to-day for the remainder of the season.

He described it as a chronic pain that hurts throughout the day, not just on the court. He said some days it feels good enough to play, and others it's difficult simply walking to class.

In a season where he had the opportunity to take over as Nebraska's primary presence in the post, Balham said he hasn't been frustrated with his inability to contribute because of his injury. The way he sees it, there's really nothing he can do about it except wait for it to heal.

"I wouldn't say frustrated," Balham said. "Obviously as a player you want to play as much as you can. Right now, I can't do as much as I want to. The best I can do is just get treatment, and when I'm out there just go hard."

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