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January 13, 2010

No. 3 Jayhawks outlast Huskers in 84-72 victory

Sometimes, there's just too much firepower to keep up with.

Such was the case for Nebraska on Wednesday night, as a potential upset of No. 3 Kansas ended in an 84-72 defeat at the Devaney Center. After trailing by just one point midway through the second half, the Jayhawks proved to be too tough and too talented to hold off down the stretch.

"It's a lot like a year ago," NU head coach Doc Sadler said. "You come in here and you play hard and you do a lot of good things, but you just don't get the win. I thought our team competed extremely hard. I thought we hit some shots. We had some breakdowns defensively in the second half when we gave up some easy baskets. We had some missed opportunities on the defensive end when we missed shots. We can't afford those.

"As I told the team, you can't get in a scoring match with Kansas. If they're going to score in the 80s, you're not going to win many games, and that's ultimately what happened."

After a basket by freshman forward Christian Standhardinger cut the deficit to 57-56 with a little more than 11 minutes remaining, the Huskers (12-5 overall, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) failed to score a field goal for the next nearly six and a half minutes.

All together, Nebraska had a total of just eight baskets in the second half.

In the meantime, Kansas (15-1, 1-0) went off on an 18-6 run to take its biggest lead of the night at 75-62 with 5:31 to play. Nebraska tried to chip away at the lead through the final minutes, but the Jayhawks, particularly sophomore forward Marcus Morris, didn't let up on the gas.

Morris scored eight of his 19 points in the final seven minutes, and senior guard Sherron Collins was solid as always, finishing with a game-high 22 points. Sophomore guard Brandon Richardson led the way for NU with a career-high 18 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including three 3-pointers.

Redshirt freshman center Jorge Brian Diaz had 15 points but managed just one rebound and one block despite KU All-American center Cole Aldrich playing just 21 minutes.

As much as anything, Sadler said the Jayhawks' hot shooting from the perimeter was one of the biggest differences in the game. Coming into the game, KU had been shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range on the season. On Wednesday, it shot 61.9 percent with six players making at least one trey in the game.

"Tonight they made them," Sadler said. "Flip a coin. They've not been making them, but they made them tonight. When you play a team like that, you're going to give up something. Good teams do that. They've been ranked No. 1 in the country all year. They've got a nice team."

The game opened as nothing less than a shootout, as both Kansas and Nebraska combined for 17 3-pointers in the first half and each shot better than 64 percent from beyond the arc.

Nebraska was the one who came out of the gates red hot, though, as it jumped all over Kansas to start the game and took a 12-1 lead. The Jayhawks committed four turnovers during the run.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for KU to finally heat up as well. Behind five straight 3-pointers, the Jayhawks put together a 20-5 run of their own and eventually took a 21-17 lead with 12:35 left in the half.

From there, the teams basically traded 3-pointers until the final minute. Trailing 38-41, redshirt freshman guard Eshaunte Jones made a 3 that hit about every inch of the rim before finally dropping in to give NU the lead with 1:06 to go.

Moments later, Collins hit a pair of free throws with 14.5 left, but sophomore guard Brandon Richardson sent the Huskers into the locker room with a 44-43 lead after he drained a deep 3-pointer from the corner with 4 seconds on the clock.

The teams shot a combined 17-of-25 from beyond the arc and 29-of-51 from the field.

"Going into halftime, (seniors Ryan Anderson and Sek Henry) were telling us all to keep our composure, because this game was far from over," Richardson said. "We still had a whole 20 minutes to go. They're the No. 3 team in the country, so you can't expect them to come out flat. We went into halftime feeling great, but not too great because we knew we had to finish the second half."

After finishing the first half with all the momentum, the Huskers came out flat to start the second, as Kansas opened up with 10-2 run. With the help of eight straight points from Richardson, though, Nebraska slowly clawed its way back to reclaim the lead at 54-53 with 13:09 to play.

Richardson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and added a clutch rebound and another jumper to single handedly bring the Huskers back into the lead.

But just as they did all game, the Jayhawks found a way to steal the momentum right back with another 12-2 run and take a 63-56 lead with 8:55 to play. From there, Nebraska managed only free throws for the next three minutes and eventually fell behind by 13 points and all but lost any chance of pulling off an upset.

The Huskers will try to rebound and pick up their first Big 12 win of the season when Iowa State (11-5, 0-1) comes to town on Saturday for a 7 p.m. tip.

"I'm tired of losing at home," Sadler said. "You can't lose at home to these guys. You've got to beat them, and we didn't. We can talk about how good we played, but the bottom line is we didn't get it done… We've got a good basketball team. We're getting better each day. As I've said, we've just got to hang in there. This game Saturday is going to be huge. It's a big game because it's at home. We've got to put this behind us."

Around the rim

***Sadler said Kansas's decision to sit Aldrich and play as many as four guards through most of the first half caused problems for NU's defense early on. In particular, players like Tyrel Reed, who added 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc, were able to catch the Huskers off guard and step up with big shots.

***Though he wasn't much of a presence on the glass, Diaz once again stepped up with a nice game offensively. In his second Big 12 game, Diaz shot 7-of-10 from the field for his second straight double-figure scoring night.

"We gave him the ball," Sadler said. "You can't do much if you don't get it. He's getting better. He's getting better. I don't' care who are, what team you are - the ball had better get to the low post. We're finally starting to realize that. That's why we made some shots.

"You can tell a difference in practice with him. He's getting more confident. He's understanding, and the guys are getting more confidence in him."

***As he's been preaching all season, Sadler said Nebraska's lack of mental toughness played a big role in not being able to keep up with the Jayhawks down the stretch.

"It's mental toughness," he said. "Our team isn't tough, and that's the thing I've said all along. We don't have the mental toughness that you've got to have right now. I can come up with excuses, but they don't matter. The bottom line is that the mental toughness, when the game is on the line, we're not getting stops. It doesn't mean enough for us to hurt - to get in a stance and hurt and grind, and until we get the mental toughness and understand that, you're going to play a lot of close games and you're not going to win many of them."

***What made Richardson's 18-point performance even more impressive was the fact that he missed the majority of the week of practice due to an illness that he said led to him losing roughly eight pounds since Saturday.



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