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January 27, 2011

Controlling the paint will be key for NU vs Aggies

For Nebraska to have any chance at bouncing back from last week's frustrating loss to Texas Tech and pulling off an upset over No. 11/13 Texas A&M on Saturday, it's no secret what it needs to do.

Defense and rebounding, normally defining traits of any Doc Sadler team, have come up time and time again throughout the week as the two keys for the Huskers in knocking off the Aggies.

Coming into Saturday's game, Texas A&M (17-2 overall, 4-1 overall) is ranked first in the Big 12 Conference in rebounding margin (+10.5 per game) and second in offensive rebounds (13.8) while also ranking behind only Nebraska in scoring defense (58.8).

In their loss to the Red Raiders, the Huskers were out-rebounded 36-25, including a 12-7 on the offensive glass and giving up 17 second-chance points.

"Second shot opportunities is probably what got us beat (Saturday)," Sadler said. "Even though we didn't give up that many at Kansas, the games that we've lost that's always been an issue, especially at critical times… Not only are they one of the best rebounding teams in this league, they're one of the best in the country, so it's definitely going to be something we have to contend with."

One of the more glaring stats in Nebraska's loss to Texas Tech was the fact that its 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-11 centers - Jorge Brian Diaz and Andre Almeida - combined for just two total rebounds in the game.

While Sadler said most of that was due to the Red Raiders spreading out the floor offensively and getting NU's post players out of position, there was no arguing that those two would have to be a much bigger presence on the boards against A&M, especially considering the Aggies are holding opponents to a league low 28.3 rebounds per game.

"I think it's the whole key to win the game," Almeida said. "We can't win the game having me and Brian only get one rebound. If we want to win Saturday - if we want to have a shot at them at all - we're going to have to rebound the ball."

The other area of focus for Nebraska is on defense, as it's also coming off one of its worst defensive performances of the year. The Red Raiders' 72 points marked just the second time the Huskers allowed an opponent to score more than 70 points through their first 19 games.

While the Aggies aren't exactly lighting teams up with 72.6 points per game, Sadler said Nebraska would likely have to keep the game in the 60s at the very most if it were to have a realistic chance at an upset.

"Everybody wants to see a game that's highly scored," Sadler said. "I don't know if you got to see the Notre Dame win over Pittsburgh (Monday night), but (Notre Dame) won 55-51. So it ain't no different in this league. Both teams are good defensive teams, and I'm sure if it gets about the 60, 65, somewhere in that area, then we're probably going to be in trouble."

Around the rim

***Asked about his thoughts on Saturday's game not being televised, the news actually came as a surprise to Sadler.

"Honestly I didn't know it wasn't on TV," he said. "I kind of like the idea that it's not. Maybe we'll have a sellout."

***Sadler said his team has done a good job of both moving on from Saturday's loss while also working on the problem areas that led to the loss.

"It's a fine line," Sadler said. "Obviously you don't want to dwell on it, but at the same time you've got to get things corrected that we didn't do well. Saturday, I thought we played hard, we just made a few mistakes and had a guy (John Roberson) that made us pay for them.

"It's not like we were playing a bad team. I know everybody's talking (bad) about them, but they were a team that was picked preseason sixth or seventh (in the Big 12) and had everybody back from a year ago, but they played some pretty tough teams. We had a shot at them, but we didn't get it done."

***Sadler gave some fairly interesting stats about the importance of playing especially good defense on the road in Big 12 play. As of Thursday, Big 12 teams that have gone on road and given up more than 70 points in league games are 3-18, with the three wins coming from conference leaders Kansas (twice) and Texas.

On the other hand, teams that hold opponents under 70 points are 7-6, and teams that hold opponents under 65 are 6-2.

***Communication on the court has been another point of emphasis this week in practice for the Huskers. Many of the defensive problems NU has had this season, Sadler said, can be attributed to not talking to each other and calling out defensive switches and other adjustments.

"This team, first of all, is not a team that talking comes easily for," Sadler said. "It's something that we've got to do better as coaches at trying to demand it. If our players really believe it's that important, they've got to do it."

The players are obviously well aware of their communication issues, and they know the solution seems fairly simple.

"It's as easy as just talk," junior guard Brandon Richardson said. "Whether you're on the help side or the block, just let someone know you have help on the weak side. It shouldn't be that way because we all know each other. It's not like we're all strangers. Basically it's just talk more. I can't put it any easier than just work hard and speak, talk on defense. Make sure the next guy on the court can hear you."

***Another way Nebraska could do itself a big favor the rest of the season would be to improve its 3-point shooting. The Huskers currently rank second to last in the Big 12 in 3-point shooting percentage (30.4) and are one of only two teams in the league with less than 100 made 3s on the year (94).

"We're 11th in the league in 3-point shooting, and I would never have guessed that," Sadler said. "We can't be out-scored 18-3 or whatever it may be (from 3-point range). It's got to be closer than that. That tells you how good everything else is, in my opinion. You're getting out-scored by nine to 12 points on 3-point baskets, well, you've got to be doing something good."



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