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February 15, 2013

No. 8 Michigan St. up next in NU's Big Ten grind

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If there's one positive to going through the weekly grind of the Big Ten Conference, it's that the brutal league schedule doesn't exactly provide much time to dwell on disappointing losses.

Nebraska is experiencing just that this week, as it already is putting Wednesday night's blowout loss at No. 1 Indiana behind it to focus its attention on the next big challenge when No. 8 Michigan State comes to town on Saturday night.

"The next opponent allows you to give them full attention as much as anything," head coach Tim Miles said. "Basketball's a game - you know, it's an uneven product. We've talked about it before, with traveling, the way the schedule's set, you could have five games in nine days or 11 days. You just don't get a natural schedule. So you learn how to bounce back in a hurry. Kids will usually acclimate quicker than fans and coaches, because they're onto the next, and that's what we're going to have to be."

The Spartans come to Lincoln for the second meeting with NU this season, and it just so happens that the Huskers' 66-56 loss in East Lansing back on Jan. 13 was actually one of their better overall performances in Big Ten play thus far.

Even though it ended in a 10-point defeat, Nebraska went blow for blow with MSU - then ranked No. 22 - for a bulk of the game, and had the score at 55-54 with 2:36 remaining. The Spartans were finally able to pull away with a 11-2 run to close the game, but the fight the Huskers showed in the loss was more than most anyone had expected.

While Miles and Co. would love to take a page from that game and use it again in the second meeting, both teams will look a lot different than the first time around. Michigan State is currently riding a five-game winning streak that's been fueled by a bigger starting lineup with guard Branden Dawson (6-6, 230), forward Adreian Payne (6-10, 240) and center Derrick Nix (6-9, 270) on the floor at the same time.

The added size and strength has helped the Spartans rank second in the Big Ten in scoring defense at 58.9 points allowed per game while holding a rebounding edge of nearly seven boards per contest.

"They have a really big front line," said senior forward Brandon Ubel, who missed the first meeting with an elbow injury. "Lately they've been starting Nix and Payne along with Dawson too, so that gives them three guys out there that can really be physical and post up, rebound really well, and that's tough to guard. But they played that lineup at times in the first time that we played them, so it's not anything that's foreign to us. We just have to come out with more energy and more determination."

Saturday will be a special night for Nebraska basketball, and not only because a top-10 opponent will be taking the court. The Huskers will also be celebrating their Legends Weekend, with former NU great Tyronn Lue being honored at halftime for his induction to the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame.

Nearly 30 other former players will make their way back to Lincoln for the game as part of the ceremony, and the Huskers will even be wearing special throwback jerseys designed from the 1976-77 season, the first year NU played in the Devaney Center.

With so much hoopla surrounding the game, the Huskers are counting on one last bit of Devaney Center magic to help them pull off yet another improbable upset.

"We're going to get one," Ubel said. "We've been talking about, there's something about Devaney, with a ranked team coming in here, we're going to get one and kind of get on a roll here. We can go one of two ways, and Coach has been saying it: we're going to catch either Penn State or we're going to catch Iowa, Northwestern and Illinois."


Around the rim

***It turns out Ubel was dealing with a case of strep throat during Wednesday's loss at Indiana. The good news is he said he's doing much better now, and actually didn't feel too affected by it against the Hoosiers.

"It was (an issue) before the game, but you start warming up and everything and it starts getting out of your mind and you don't really think about it," Ubel said. "During the game, I wasn't really thinking about it very much."

***Miles and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo have already developed a nice friendship in Miles' first season as a Big Ten head coach. Not only did Miles give Izzo a lift in Nebraska's plane after a recruiting trip in Las Vegas this past spring, Izzo was the first coach to call and congratulate Miles after he won his first ever Big Ten game over Penn State last month.

"When we won our first Big Ten Conference game, he called me to congratulate me on my first victory, which I thought was really neat gesture," Miles said. "He said, 'I remember who called me on my first Big Ten win, and I just wanted to do the same.' I thought that was really a cool move. He's that kind of guy. He's just a nice, generous guy."

***Ubel has played in plenty of tough road venues over the years, and Indiana's Assembly Hall was the latest big time college basketball setting added to his list. As impressive as the atmosphere was in Bloomington, Ubel said Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse still holds the title for the most intimidating setting he's ever seen.

"Allen Fieldhouse is a different monster," Ubel said. "I'll tell you that right now. That place is something else. Don't get me wrong: Indiana has a really good atmosphere. The crowd was great, it gets loud in there and obviously has a lot of history. But Allen Fieldhouse is a whole 'nother ball game."



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