March 19, 2009

Recapping the highs and lows of the 2008-09 season

In a season that saw range of emotions go from the highest highs to the lowest lows and vice versa, several key moments stand out in particular that most shaped Nebraska's 2008-09 campaign.

Looking back on the roller coaster year, we decided to take a look at the five highest and lowest moments for the Huskers this season. There was plenty to choose from on both ends, but here they are…

Five highest points

5. Big 12 road wins

One of the biggest knocks of Nebraska in recent years has been its inability to go on the road, especially in conference play, and get much-needed wins over teams it arguably should beat.

The Huskers found themselves in this situation again several times, but unlike previous years, they were able to go on the road and get the job done more times than not. Nebraska won three Big 12 road games this season over Texas Tech, Colorado and Baylor, and all three played big parts in getting it to the postseason for the second straight year.

The wins over Tech and Colorado came on the heels of a three-game losing streak for the Huskers, including two straight heartbreaking home losses to Oklahoma State and Kansas. The Baylor win solidified a .500 record in the Big 12 for the first time since 1998-99.

4. Diaz gets cleared

Though it didn't end up having any impact on the team this season, getting 6-11 freshman center Brian Diaz finally enrolled in classes and with the team on a daily basis was a huge benefit to his future progression.

After a drawn out admission process, Diaz officially joined the Huskers following their win over Kansas State on Jan. 17. He didn't play in a single game, but Diaz worked with the his new teammates daily and help catch up with head coach Doc Sadler's schemes and build some rapport with the team.

Even better, he was able to work one-on-one with 6-10 freshman center Christopher Niemann in the post, giving him a legitimate Big 12 body to battle in the post with every practice.

3. Beating Creighton at the buzzer

On the national stage, Nebraska's 54-52 win over Creighton was basically just another good non-conference victory. For Nebraskans, though, it meant a whole lot more.

In what is becoming a fairly bitter rivalry, the Huskers edged out their in-state rival on a last-second lay-up by senior guard Ade Dagunduro on a beautiful assist by senior guard Steve Harley.

The win gave a huge boost to NU's RPI and likely played a fairly big part in securing its NIT bid considering the Bluejays went on to tie for the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title. It also gave Nebraska fans bragging rights for a full year until the teams meet again next season.

2. Win over Baylor in regular season finale

As mentioned earlier, Nebraska needed to go down to Waco, Texas, and pull off a win to lock up its first .500 record in the Big 12 in 10 years. On top of that, the Huskers needed to close out their regular season with a win to help bolster their chances of earning a postseason berth.

Though the Bears would get their revenge less than a week later in the conference tournament, Nebraska went on the road and got a crucial win against a team many considered one of the top-3 teams in the league coming into the year.

The win was another step in the right direction for the Huskers, even though they pretty much spent all that they had left to get it and didn't leave any gas for a postseason run.

1. Upset of Texas

This is the game was the highlight of the season for Nebraska for a couple of reasons. First, it was obviously a big win in the sense that Texas came into the game ranked No. 16 in the country.

On top of that was the fact that the Huskers had just rebounded from a three-game losing streak and won two league games on the road over Texas Tech and Colorado. The win also put NU in a tie for fourth place in the Big 12 standings.

After the win, Nebraska and Sadler in particular received the most national recognition it had seen in years, and at that point - if only for a few days - an NCAA Tournament bid didn't just seem realistic, it almost seemed destined.

Five lowest points

5. Niemann's knee injury

Like Diaz's late enrollment, the ACL injury Niemann suffered just before Nebraska's final home game against Iowa State didn't have any real impact on this past season. However, it may have been a big blow in terms of the immediate future.

The Huskers were counting on Niemann to step in right away next year and provide some much-needed size in the post, and even if his recovery goes without a hitch, he'll still miss valuable offseason workouts with his teammates.

Not only that, it leaves Diaz without a fellow true big man to go head to head with during the offseason. Unless he competes against some national competition this summer, Diaz won't get to face anyone with Niemann's size working with his teammates.

4. Non-conference stumbles

While the losses against Big 12 competition were tough to swallow, they didn't come close matching the gut-wrenching feelings that followed losses to Oregon State and Maryland-Baltimore County.

After starting off the season 6-0, Nebraska ended up dropping back-to-back games on the road to Pac-10 foes Arizona State and Oregon State. Though the Arizona State loss was easier to take considering the Sun Devils were ranked just outside the top-25 at the time, the loss in Corvallis, Ore., was much worse. Not only did NU lose 64-63 on a pair of late free throws, it lost to a team that finished just 13-17 this season and that had won a total of six games the year before.

Then there's the UMBC loss, which could very well make a case for the lowest point of the season. In what should have been a cake walk victory two days before Christmas, the Huskers ended up letting the Retrievers come in the Devaney Center and build a 16-point second-half lead and hold on for a 66-64 upset. That one still stings.

3. Big 12 blowouts

Nebraska had its share of losses this year, but some were a lot less competitive than others. The only game in which the Huskers never really had a chance came during its trip to take on Missouri on the road, where the Tigers handed them a brutal 70-47 beat down.

After winning the first meeting in Lincoln to open their conference schedule, the Huskers were overmatched in nearly every aspect of the game. With a flurry of dunks and blocked shots, the Tigers pretty much got everything it needed for its season highlight reel against NU.

Aside from the final score, what really made this loss stand out was that it was the only moment where Nebraska seemed to throw in the towel down the stretch. In every other loss, the Huskers were fighting tooth and nail until the final buzzer. This game, though, they looked like they just wanted to get out of there and go home.

2. Preseason eligibility snafus

Coming into the year, Sadler was planning on have four potentially impact players that were supposed to help him take the team to the next level. Unfortunately, none of them hardly even stepped foot onto the court.

Because of a bizarre combination of NCAA rules, academic admission snags and injuries, Nebraska had four players - Diaz, Niemann, guard Roburt Sallie and freshman guard Eshaunte Jones - all taken out of the line up.

Diaz couldn't get registered with the university in time for the season because of problems with his transcripts, Niemann was held out because of issues with the club team he played on back in Germany, Sallie was forced to transfer because of a mistake by NU's academic support team that enrolled him in classes before he was supposed to, and Jones played four games before deciding to redshirt because of a foot injury.

1. Josh Carter's game-winning 3-pointer

It's not often that one play can define a season, but Josh Carter's 3-pointer as time expired to give Texas A&M a 57-55 win over Nebraska did just that for the Huskers.

When Carter's falling-away 3 hit the bottom of the net, any realistic hopes the Huskers had of earning an NCAA Tournament bid were all but erased. After the loss, NU went on to drop three of its final five games, and though they still played as hard as they could each night, the Huskers' were never quite the same.

Nebraska definitely had its share of heartbreakers over the course of the season, but none even came close to matching the feeling after the A&M loss. Just as Carter's 3-pointer sucked the life out of the Devaney Center crowd, it also may have very well done the same to the Huskers' chances to achieving their goal of making the Big Dance.

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