January 29, 2009

Thursday notebook: Huskers keeping up intensity

Considering the nature of Nebraska's past two losses and that it's now lost four of its past five games, it would be understandable there was somewhat of a drop off in their overall intensity.

That's just not how the Huskers operate, though.

While it's obviously been a difficult stretch the past couple of weeks, the Huskers insist that no matter how tough things get, their trademark work ethic won't waiver one bit the rest of the season.

"It's hard," senior guard Paul Velander said. "Ultimately, I don't play this game for wins and losses or for the trophies or anything like that. You play the game because you love it and you love competing, and you've been given a gift to play. So you enjoy that part of it. But there's that side of it too that you work so hard as a team towards a goal to win.

"We're doing a lot of things right, we're just not finishing games how we want to finish them. It's a tough feeling to have that on you after the game continually. It's tough to rebound and keep going, because when you go back to practice it's not like you have to fix a bunch of things. We're doing a lot of things right. It's just a couple of things, a couple of shots we're missing, and that's just the way it goes. You just have to keep going back to work and try to maintain what you're doing and try to execute better at the end of the game."

If anyone has the right to be frustrated, it's Velander.

In Nebraska's past two losses to Oklahoma State and Kansas, Velander has shot a combined 2-of-13 from the field for a total of 11 points. Those most recent performances come off the heels of a career-high 20 points he put up in NU's win over Kansas State.

Not only isn't he scoring, he's also been on the wrong end of numerous foul calls and no-calls. Still, Velander said it's up to him and every other Husker to make sure the frustration doesn't become a distraction in finishing out their final 10 regular season games strong.

"I think it's a team effort," Velander said. "It starts with people talking and just keeping each other accountable. When a person seems someone else going kind of slow or mentally out of it, you just kind of say something. It's kind of a collective effort. With the seniors having gone through a couple seasons before, knowing that it's a long season, and we're still privileged to play 10 more game in the conference. We just kind of have to have that mindset."

McCray in the doghouse?

On a night when junior guard Cole Salomon saw the most significant playing time of his career, redshirt freshman Toney McCray never left the bench.

A former starter earlier in the season, McCray was taken out of the game plan completely on Wednesday night, as Sadler moved him out of his previous role in the post to more of a perimeter player on the wing.

The problem in that move for McCray is that Nebraska doesn't really have much of a need for any more guards at the moment.

"There just weren't any minutes for him," Sadler said. "I played the guys I thought could help us win. I made a decision to move him back out on the perimeter, and in doing so that probably takes away some of his minutes. It's just minutes. I went with (Brandon Richardson) for the minutes, because I felt like Brandon gave us a better chance."

Sadler said McCray's move was more of a result of him not showing the strength of aggressiveness in the post that the Huskers needed, and that his game would be better suited out in the open on the wing.

While McCray watched all of Wednesday's game from the bench, Sadler said it didn't mean is playing time was over for the rest of the season by any means. McCray will simply have to earn it back.

"It's going to be hard," Sadler said. "He's going to have to earn it out here (at practice)."

Big guys not playing, still helping Huskers

Though freshman Brian Diaz and redshirt freshman Christopher Niemann are both sitting out this season, that doesn't mean they aren't making an impact for Nebraska this season.

While they can't play in games, Sadler said having two players standing 6-foot-10 (Niemann) and 6-11 (Diaz) in practice gives the rest of the Huskers good opportunities to prepare for bigger opponents they'll face this season.

Fr Diaz and Niemann, working with Nebraska's top unit everyday in practice should also prove beneficial for them personally, as both players will be eligible to play next season.

"I think there's a lot of positives," Sadler said. "If nothing else, mentally for me, looking out there and it looks like a college basketball team. But no, seriously, I think you can get a false sense of security as an offensive player driving the basketball and not having contested shots in the lane. That's not going to happen in a game. So it gives you a chance to maybe offensive rebound in practice and have to try and finish against bigger guys. Probably, offensively it helps you more than defensively."

Harley's offensive struggles continue

With 11 points against Kansas, senior guard Steve Harley once again failed to reach his season scoring average for the sixth straight game.

After averaging nearly 13 points per contest earlier in the year, including three games of 18 points or more, Harley has been more of a solid role player rather than the scoring threat the Huskers had hoped he'd be this season.

"I'm not concerned about his shooting, he just needs to score for us to be good," Sadler said. "He's struggling. He's had some good games, but these last few have not been Steve Harley games."

Sadler said part of the reason for Harley's averaging scoring performances has been because of Nebraska's inability to get offensive rebounds consistently. Because the Huskers' are often limited to just one shot per possession, Harley and the rest of his teammates have seen the number of overall shots they get reduced.

"I think more than anything with our team is that everything is magnified," Sadler said. "(Sek Henry) and him both got great shots at the elbow, but we don't get offensive rebounds and put-backs, so everything is just magnified. It may look like somebody's struggling more than they really are."

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