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February 19, 2011

Huskers shock No. 3 Texas with 70-67 upset win

The mob of red-clad fans just wouldn't get off the Devaney Center court nearly 10 minutes after the final buzzer sounded. They were still too busy dancing.

When J'Covan Brown's 3-pointer fell short as the time expired, Nebraska officially pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent program history, stunning the nation with a 70-67 win over No. 3 Texas on Saturday.

The win marked the program's biggest upset win since defeating No. 3 Missouri in the 1994 Big Eight Tournament as well as the biggest since the formation of the Big 12 Conference. It was also just the eighth time in program history that NU defeated a top-3 team.

As a result, Nebraska (18-8 overall, 6-6 Big 12) officially put itself on the bubble in the NCAA Tournament discussion. The Huskers haven't played in the Tournament since 1998.

"Man, what a great game," head coach Doc Sadler said. "I mean, we've had some games where we played really well and come up on the short end… How can you not be excited? It's a great day for us."

After leading by 11 points in the final two minutes of the game, the Longhorns, who were 11-0 in Big 12 play heading into the day, came back and scored 12 points in 31 seconds to tie it at 65-65 with 1:10 remaining.

Nebraska hit three straight free throws to reclaim the lead, but Brown converted on all three of his free throw attempts after being fouled by Drake Beranek on a tough 3-pointer to make it 68-67 with 12.7 seconds left on the clock.

With the game on the line, though, junior guard Brandon Richardson hit both of his ensuing free throws with 7.9 seconds to go to put NU back up by three, and Brown's last-second shot from the corner clanked off the side of the rim as time expired.

"I think more than anything, we're excited right now," Sadler said. "The four games that we have left, you want to be in the situation to make the next day, the next game bigger than the last one… The fans are excited. The players are excited. Everybody is excited. The coach's wife is excited."

It wasn't the best first half for Nebraska, but despite some sloppy play at times the Huskers were still able to keep the Longhorns within reach the entire first 20 minutes.

Eshaunte Jones - who ended the day 3-of-4 from beyond the arc - with three minutes left in the half.

However, Texas came right back and bumped its lead back up to nine on back-to-back 3s by Jordan Hamilton and Brown to go up 31-22 with 1:42 left in the half. A pair of free throws by Richardson with 17.7 seconds remaining made it 33-26 at halftime.

"The thing that we started talking about two weeks ago was we've got to give two percent more," Sadler said. "Everybody has to. The other thing was we can't get caught up in all that (NCAA Tournament talk). I told the team after the game, 'Enjoy it. Enjoy it tomorrow and however long you want to enjoy it, but Monday you've got to come back and get ready to play."

The Huskers came out much stronger to start the second half, piecing together a 14-5 run to open the half and taking their first lead of the game on a put-back by junior center Andre Almeida that made it 40-38.

From there, Nebraska came right back with a 10-2 run that increased the lead to 50-42 with 11:41 and eventually going up by as many as 11 on a lay-up by senior point guard Lance Jeter with 2:36 left in the game.

Just when it seemed that Nebraska had the upset well in hand, though, the Longhorns put together a miraculous come back in the next minute to tie it back up.

The Huskers definitely didn't help themselves, either, as they gave up an offensive rebound on a missed free throw that led to a lay-up by Gary Johnson and then let Texas steal the ensuing inbounds pass that led to two more UT free throws.

On top of that, Nebraska went just 6-of-11 from the free throw line during that stretch, including missing two front ends of one-and-one free throw opportunities. Before that, NU was 12-of-14 from the line.

In the end, though, the Huskers did just enough to hold on for what Sadler called one of the biggest wins in his five seasons in Lincoln.

"I was just hoping that we wouldn't lose just because of offensive rebounds and not converting our free throws down the stretch, because we work on that every time after practice," Richardson said. "I was just thinking that we came too far to let it slip away. Unfortunately things got a little wild at the end, but we pulled through."

Richardson ended the day with a team-high 15 points, including going 9-of-11 from the free throw line. Junior guard Toney McCray added 14 points and six rebounds, as four Huskers scored in double figures in the game.

Brown and Hamilton both scored a game-high 18 points, but Hamilton - a candidate for the Big 12 Player of the Year - was held to just 3-of-16 shooting from the field.

Nebraska returns to action on Wednesday night when it plays host to Kansas State. For now, though, the Huskers are content with celebrating Saturday's win for a little while longer - just like the fans at mid-court.

"I don't know what to say right now," Richardson said. "It's a lot of emotions going through my head and my teammates' heads as well as the coaches. It was a great win for not just us, but for this program. We deserved it. We worked hard, and now this is my second time since I've been here that we beat Texas."

Around the rim

***What made Richardson's performance Saturday that much more impressive was how he stepped in and took over the offense when Jeter was limited the bulk of the second half after picking up his fourth foul. Jeter played just 20 minutes, but Richardson was there to provide one of his best offensive performances of the year as well as making huge free throws in the final seconds.

"I know when (Jeter) goes out I move to the point guard position and half to kind of lead my guys offensively," Richardson said. "I just tried to be careful with everything and make the sure pass and do whatever Coach asks of me on the floor."

The game couldn't have come at a much better time for Richardson, either. According to Sadler, the Los Angeles native approached him and suggested he be removed from the starting lineup because of his poor play in the previous two games.

"I was so excited and happy for Brandon," Sadler said. "You know, Brandon Richardson came to me Thursday and just said 'Coach, man, I'm struggling. Why don't you start somebody else.' He told me that after practice Thursday night. I looked at him like he was nuts. He's playing good. If you would've told me we would've done as well as we did with Lance only playing 20 minutes, that's pretty impressive."

***Nebraska's 70 points were the most Texas has allowed in Big 12 play this season, and its 47-percent shooting from the field was the best by a Longhorn opponent this year. After the game, Sadler was asked a tongue-in-cheek question about his ability (or presumed lack thereof) to coach offensive basketball.

"I can't, according to some of you guys," Sadler said, half jokingly. "No, again, it's amazing when you score points how much better of a coach you are. What I don't know is I thought if it got outside of the 50s we'd be in trouble. I thought defensively we were pretty good until the last two minutes."

***During Texas's furious comeback in the final two minutes, the Longhorns got a break when McCray slipped on a wet spot on the floor during an inbounds pass, which led to a Texas steal and two more free throws that tied the game at 65-65.

Afterwards, McCray was kicking himself for, as he put it, being a dummy on the play.

"I felt stupid because I knew that spot was wet," McCray said. "It was like somebody had just fell right there, and I was right there, and I was like 'Okay, Toney, don't fall in that spot, because you know it's wet.' And I went right back to that same spot thinking I had the red shoes on, them things are going to hold up. But man, I slipped right on my face.

"I felt stupid. I felt so dumb, because I had just told myself not to fall in that spot, and naturally, like a dummy, I just went right back to that same spot and I slipped. I looked at the ref and tried to act like somebody fouled me. I was like, 'Dang, I wished somebody would've touched me.'"

***Nebraska's previous biggest upset during the Big 12 era was when it defeated No. 4 Oklahoma State on Feb. 22, 2005.

***The win marked NU's 20th win over a top-10 team in program history.

***Nebraska is now 16-1 at home this season, one shy of setting the Devaney Center single-season record.



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