February 5, 2009

Nebraska finding ways to win in final minutes

Aesthetically speaking, Nebraska's back-to-back conference road wins over Texas Tech and Colorado have certainly left much to be desired.

Good thing the only things that matter are wins and losses.

In rebounding from a three-game losing skid that also saw them drop four of five games, the Huskers have shown an ability to find ways to win in the final minutes - an area that arguably could be considered the sole cause for the majority of their losses this season.

In Wednesday's win over Colorado, Nebraska was able to hold off a late Buffalo rally in the final minutes despite playing one of their least fundamentally sound games of the year. The Huskers overcame a season-high 18 turnovers and a 54-percent performance from the free throw line that included them hitting just five of their final 12 free throws in the final minute.

Nebraska showed similar resiliency in Saturday's win over Texas Tech, as it watched a 62-44 lead evaporate to just five points with three minutes to play, but were able to put its foot down and hang on for an 82-69 victory.

It may not be the most ideal way head coach Doc Sadler would want his team to win games, but when it all comes down to it, the Huskers are finding ways to win, and that's all that matters.

"That just shows how tough we are," junior guard Sek Henry said. "Our free throws were pretty bad, we didn't shoot good from the line, and we had so many turnovers (on Wednesday). We just made mistakes that we just normally don't do, but we still end up winning the game."

While they still have had their share of struggles in the final minutes the past two games, the difference has been the Huskers' ability to bounce back and make plays when they need them the most. Of their seven losses on the season, the Huskers have led in the last five minutes in six of them.

The late-game issues had been well documented during Nebraska's losing streak, but based on the previous two victories, it appears the Huskers are slowly getting over their final five minute hump that has cost them as many as six wins this season.

"I think we all know how big it was," junior guard Ryan Anderson said. "We lost two at home, and our backs were against the wall. Like Coach said, we had to make a break for us. Things weren't going the way we wanted, even though we were playing really good, we had to make a break. I think we made a break for ourselves.

"When it all comes down to it, a win's a win. All that matters is that we win the game. I'll take it. Everybody's happy around here again. It's good to see everybody smiling around here."

Free throw, turnover troubles still linger

As good as Nebraska might have felt following Wednesday's victory, its struggles from the free throw line and season-high 18 turnovers were still major points of concern.

As previously mentioned, the Huskers shot just 54.2 percent from the line and hit just 5-of-12 during the final 1:03 to help Colorado climb back from a seven-point deficit and come a last-second shot away from stealing a win.

During the last minute, Nebraska saw five players go no better than 1-of-2 from the charity stripe, including two misses by Henry with 2.6 seconds remaining and the Huskers leading by two.

The performance is especially trouble considering the fact that NU seemed to have righted its free throw issues on Saturday against Texas Tech when it hit 23-of-30 from the line, including 21-of-26 in the second half.

Instead, the Huskers are back to looking for a way to capitalize on opportunities for a free two points.

"Coach said we have to take more initiative in practice and hold each other accountable when we practice on those things," Anderson said. "We're going to play defense hard, we're going to play as hard as we can and put out our best effort, but we've got to hold each other accountable. When we go out in practice and shoot free throws, we've all got to work on them."

Turnovers were another point of concern, as the Huskers turned the ball over 18 times on Wednesday, topping the previous season high of 16. Again, the poor performance came just days after NU showed good ball security against the Red Raiders, where they committed just 11 times.

"We haven't had 18 turnovers all year," Sadler said. "We're usually around 10 or 11. I knew coming into the game that they had really done a nice job with the turnovers, of getting theirs under 10 or 11 the last two or three games. I thought we would be there, but they did a nice job of turning us over."

Sadler gets first victory in Boulder

One of the nicer side notes for Nebraska after its win over Colorado was that it marked the first time in Sadler won a game in Boulder, Colo., since taking over at NU.

The Huskers dropped a 55-51 heartbreaker to the Buffaloes last season after losing another close one in 2006, 73-69. In fact, Wednesday's win was Nebraska's first in Boulder since 2004-05, when they knocked off CU 66-61.

Sadler was aware of his most recent "milestone" after the game, and said Colorado has been so tough for the Huskers in recent years because of the quality of its teams and their ability to defend their home court so well.

"It's hard to win up here," Sadler said. "(They're) just good teams. (Former CU coach Ricardo Patton), when he was here, it went down to the end (in 2006). Last year it was the same thing. This was hard. They had a shot to win the game."

Sadler's players also knew about their coach's winless streak in Boulder, and said after the game it felt good to get that monkey off of Sadler's back, as well as their own. Only senior guard Paul Velander - who redshirted that year - was a member of the team during the last win in 04-05.

"This is really big for us and our confidence, and just knowing that we beat Colorado for the first time since Doc Sadler and I've been here, and since the rest of the team has been here," Henry said. "That helped us a lot, and now we have Texas this weekend, and that can be even bigger for us. It can give us a name, and people will have to start watching out for us."

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