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December 6, 2013

Huskers ready for latest round in rivalry with Creighton

Based off of his personal experience over the years, Tim Miles knows a game is a true rivalry based on the amount of sleep he gets in the nights leading up to tip-off. Though Sunday's trip to take on Creighton will only be his second experience in the bitter in-state rivalry, Miles' sleepless nights this week show he already knows the magnitude the annual series carries.

"Well, I'm sweating right now," Miles joked. "I started that last night at 3 a.m. I did not sleep last night at all. I just tossed and turned the whole night. That's what Doug McDermott does to you. Thanks, Doug, for the bags under my eyes. Appreciate it."

While Miles may have been embellishing just a tad, he made it clear that he fully understands the importance the Nebraska-Creighton rivalry means not only to the respective programs, but to basketball fans across the state of Nebraska. Previous NU coaches haven't exactly embraced the series as a positive for the Huskers, viewing it as more of a lose-lose situation in playing a mid-major program in a game that had far more risks than rewards.

Miles sees it as the exact opposite, though. First of all, since Creighton joined the Big East Conference this year there is no longer the fear of the repercussions of losing to a mid-major. Second, the success the Bluejays have had for the past decade-plus vaults them as one of Nebraska's higher-profile non-conference opponents. Add in the excitement the game stirs up around the state within both fan bases, and Miles said Sunday's game could only be seen as a total positive.

"I think it's good for our state," Miles said. "They have a stronghold over Omaha, obviously, and they get great, great fan support. Whether it be Greg (McDermott) or Dana (Altman) or even the guys before him, through the years they've had great players and great teams. I think it's one that needs to happen. We've even talked about making it a bigger deal. So I'm for the game and looking forward to it for a long time in the future."

By "making it bigger deal", Miles said there have already been discussions of ways Nebraska and Creighton could elevate the series in terms of scheduling the games on dates to maximize potential television exposure. Miles said he likes playing the game during the first weekend of December, but said other dates - including closer to the Christmas window - could also be possibilities. Because of the way the Big Ten Conference schedule is set to expand next year with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers, Miles said scheduling the Bluejays for a home-and-home in the same season was likely out of the equation.

Either way, Miles stressed that the Nebraska-Creighton series wasn't going anywhere so long as he was involved.

"We're going to play them," Miles said. "Why wouldn't we? I think it's great."

Sunday's game will be full of firsts for Miles and his squad, as it will mark Nebraska's first true road game and the first time he will coach a game at CenturyLink Arena with a roster full of players who have never been on the court for an NU-CU showdown. In fact, only four players in Nebraska's top nine-man rotation this season have ever faced the Bluejays, and senior Ray Gallegos, junior David Rivers and sophomore Walter Pitchford are the only Huskers to play a game at CenturyLink. Pitchford played two games there with Florida when Omaha hosted the first round of the 2011-12 NCAA Tournament.

Though only a handful of Huskers have actually faced off head-to-head with Creighton, the majority of them already know what the rivalry is all about. Players like Pitchford, Terran Petteway and Deverell Biggs, who sat out last season, still remember watching NU's 64-42 home loss to the Bluejays last year from the bench quite well.

"(Miles) has talked about it a little bit and how they kind of beat us pretty bad at our place last year," Petteway said. "It kind of hurt when their fans were yelling their little Creighton Jay thing or whatever it was. That kind of hurt me, even though I wasn't playing. I was kind of pissed off when I heard that. We still have it in our minds."

The recent numbers in the series certainly don't bode well for Nebraska's chances on Sunday, especially with Doug McDermott - the reigning two-time national player of the year - back for his senior season. The Bluejays have won nine of the past 13 meetings with the Huskers, and NU hasn't won in Omaha since 2004. Overall, Nebraska holds a 25-21 lead in the all-time series, which stands as its longest-running non-conference series dating back to 1922-23.

All that matters to Miles, though, is what happens this season and in the many years to come.

"I don't know what the series is, but it's 0-1 to me, and that's what's most important," Miles said. "I just know it's a really, really important game to me personally, and it's an important game for our program. Creighton historically has had excellent basketball. You look at their NCAA Tournaments and how successful they've been, and they've got a great tradition. So we want to be able to go out there and compete our butts off and find a way to win."

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