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December 5, 2013

Nebraska happy, not satisfied with 6-2 start to season

If most Nebraska fans had been told before the season that the Huskers would be 6-2 through their first eight games, chances are the majority would have taken it in a heartbeat. Considering that some of the teams NU has faced already this year suddenly look much better than many had expected, that record only seems more and more impressive.

Nebraska already has two home wins over teams that made the Sweet 16 in last year's NCAA Tournament in Florida Gulf Coast and Miami as well a neutral-site victory over Georgia at the Charleston Classic. The Huskers' two losses on the year, which both came in Charleston, also look a whole lot better than they did a couple of weeks ago.

UMass was already regarded as one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference, but now the Minutemen are sitting at 7-0 and ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press Top-25 poll, and they also lead all Division I teams with an RPI of .7878. Nebraska only lost to UMass 96-90 in a game that saw a combined 61 fouls and 82 free-throw attempts.

The Huskers' other loss came a day later in Charleston to Alabama-Birmingham, 87-74. UAB was also expected to compete for the Conference-USA title this year, but the Blazers have exceeded nearly everyone's expectations with their 6-2 start that includes wins over Rutgers and most recently North Carolina, which at that point was ranked 16th in the country. Those same Tar Heels of course just upset top-ranked Michigan State 79-65 on the road on Wednesday night.

To be fair, Nebraska has looked far from perfect, and its three biggest wins over FGCU, Georgia and Miami carry more value in the names of their opponents than the actual caliber their rosters this season. Even so, the Huskers know that with each game they're taking another step in the right direction.

"I would say yeah, we're happy (to be 6-2), but those are two games that we definitely could have won," junior power forward Leslee Smith said. "But you can't win everything, and that's why we came back and got better and bounced back with three win in a row… We've got to continue to get better in these next couple of days. We're going to watch film and learn from the film of (the Miami game) and just get better in the next two practices and move on."

Part of the way Nebraska has been able to get to this point has been following the old-but-true adage of not looking any further ahead than the next game on the schedule. It certainly helps the Huskers in that regard that their roster is full of new players still learning how to play together, which doesn't necessarily allow for taking any game for granted. Even after a big win the like one over Miami on Wednesday night, NU knows full well that it has no room to let off the gas with in-state rival Creighton up next on the schedule on Sunday.

"Our approach right now is one game at a time," sophomore forward Walter Pitchford said. "Since (the Miami game) is done - everybody says you're supposed to enjoy it - we're going to enjoy it in our beds. We're going to go to sleep, and we're going to get ready for tomorrow, and tomorrow we're hitting straight Creighton."

Even though Creighton has lost two of its past three games and dropped out of the top 25, the Huskers know full well the significance the game has not only in terms of their non-conference RPI, but the weight the rivalry carries within the state of Nebraska.

"I haven't been here, but I hear a lot of people talk about it," Smith said. "I really follow that guy - what's his name? (Doug) McDermott. I really follow him a lot just to see his game and see his weaknesses and see the way that he plays. I've got to give it to him, he's a really good player, and he's the heart and soul of that team. Our main focus is going to be getting him out of sync and just making sure the rest of the team doesn't get comfortable. We're going to move forward and we're going to try our best to come out with another victory."



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