January 17, 2009

Velander guides NU to win over Wildcats, Diaz enrolls

It's funny how much of a difference there is between when a team actually makes shots compared to when it doesn't.

In Wednesday's loss to Iowa State, Nebraska simply couldn't buy a bucket all night, as it shot just 34 percent from the field. In Saturday's game against Kansas State, it was like the lid had been lifted off the basket.

The Huskers (12-4, 2-1 Big 12 Conference) shot 50 percent from the floor, including 10-of-18 from 3-point range, to pick up a much-needed victory over the Wildcats, 73-51, at Bob Devaney Sports Center.

Senior guard Paul Velander was the hottest shooter on the floor, as he drained six 3-pointers on his way to a game- and personal season-high 20 points. Sophomore Cookie Miller posted a season-high point total for the second straight night, as he followed up with 15.

"What a little shooting will do," head coach Doc Sadler. "It makes you look maybe a little better than what you played… We got some opportunities when they started scrambling a little but to get some open shots, and if you don't make those open shots, it's a whole different ball game, which we know as of Wednesday night (against Iowa State). If you don't make shots, then it's a tough evening for you."

In the first half it looked as if both teams were having a competition to see who could commit the most turnovers, as the teams turned the ball over in one fashion or another a combined 27 times. Kansas State (11-6, 0-3) was responsible for 17 of those.

As a result, neither team was able to get much of anything going offensively through the majority of the first half. Finally with roughly 3 minutes, 30 seconds left before halftime, Velander scored eight straight points with the help of back-to-back 3-pointers to help the Huskers close the half on a 12-0 run and go into halftime up 32-21.

The Huskers broke away even further to start the second half, as they used a 12-2 run capped by a Miller 3 to jump out to a 45-26 lead. Things would only continue to go Nebraska's way, as Velander sunk another 3-pointer with just over five minutes left in the game to put NU up 70-41.

A free throw by senior guard Steve Harley a few possessions later made the lead an even 30 at 71-41, but the Wildcats were able to chip away and make the final score just a bit more respectable.

All together, the Huskers forced 25 turnovers by Kansas State, tying their highest total of the season along with the 25 they forced against San Jose State.

"I thought defensively, that's what this team's about, and I thought again we played good defense," Sadler said. "Guys really did a nice job of defending who they needed to defend, and therefore we were able to hold them to a low score at halftime. Then we hit some shots and got ourselves a little bit of a lead."

With the win, the Huskers got a huge boost of confidence going into arguably their toughest game of the season on Wednesday when they travel to take on No. 5 Oklahoma.

"Overall, how could you to be very, very happy with the game?" Sadler said. "We get to move on now. We get to play a good team Wednesday night."

Velander's hot shooting steals the show

Not only did Velander and his six 3-pointers give the 11,000 fans in attendance plenty to cheer about, he was also able to get big baskets just when the Huskers needed them to help keep the Wildcats at bay.

Trailing 21-20 with less than four minutes to go in the first half, Velander went on a tear that gave the Huskers the lead for good. After hitting a pair of free throws that put NU up 22-21, Velander followed up with back-to-back 3s that helped the Huskers close out the first half on a 12-0 run.

For Velander, it was just one of those days where the basket looked big as the ocean.

"In some games, if you get enough open shots, it just comes to you," Velander said. "You're shooting free, and you're not thinking and the game's coming you. That's just the way you want to play."

Sadler gave a bit more detailed explanation for Velander's hot shooting, saying the Huskers did a much better job of spacing out their offense, penetrating the ball inside and kicking the ball out to Velander on the perimeter for an open shot.

"Our guys did a better job of finding him against their zone," Sadler said. "We got the ball to the high post, and you've got to make a decision as a defensive team in how you're going to guard it when the ball is there. Paul hit three shots that were pretty contested shots, probably wouldn't even have shot if the shot clock hadn't been winding down under 10 seconds. We all know Paul. Tonight it wouldn't have mattered, because Paul was getting the shot off."

Once players like Miller were able to get the ball inside off the dribble, there really wasn't any question as to who they were looking for to kick to ball out to.

"You've always got to look for Paul Velander," Miller said. "That's an easy assist. Wherever he's at, go to him. Paul's a very good shooter, and I'm happy to be playing with him."

Diaz finally gets enrolled, joins Huskers

After months of speculation as to the fate of one of Nebraska's most anticipated recruits in recent memory, Jorge Brian Diaz finally officially became a Husker on Saturday.

Before his post-game press conference, Sadler released a written statement announcing that Diaz - who said he prefers to go by his middle name, Brian - had been admitted to the university and is enrolled in classes.

Sadler said Diaz got to Lincoln during Saturday's game, and is set to officially join the team on Sunday. Nebraska doesn't practice on Sunday, so his first practice as a Husker won't be until Monday.

As could be expected, it didn't take long for Sadler to start fielding questions about Diaz's potential impact this season Unfortunately, he didn't really quite have the answers yet.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Sadler said. "We'll cross that here in a few days or so."

Sadler said he hasn't been able to sit down and talk to Diaz about what he wants to do as far as this season is concerned. Whatever Sadler and Diaz decided, Sadler said he wants to make sure Daiz's best interests are put before anything else.

"If he can help us," Sadler said. "Is it fair to him? I've got to visit with him. I haven't visited with him at all about it. We're down to what, 13 games? So, we're going to be here a long time. The kids can only be here four years, maybe five. So is it fair to him? I still want to win every game we play, but not at the expense of a college career for a kid, either.

"So if he wants to play and he can help us and make a difference, then we'll look at it. But is he willing to give a half a year away? I don't know. That's something that I'll have to visit with him about."

Other questions were how Diaz actually measured up physically, as there were several conflicting reports as to his true height and weight. A team weigh-in and measurement had the Puerto Rico native listed as 6-foot-11, 235 pounds.

Despite the Huskers' need for some height and a strong post presence this season, Sadler said he still needs to weigh the options and talk with Diaz about whether he will play in any of NU's remaining 13 regular-season games.

"We'll decide that," Sadler said. "I think anything right now is assuming or speculating, and there's no need to do that. We'll just get him out here, an like I've said, what we do is not real complicated, so maybe he can pick up on it pretty quick."

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