One could argue that after last season's disastrous 2-14 run through the Big 12 Conference, Nebraska's loss on the road to No. 12 Missouri Wednesday night could be a moral victory considering how close the game was in the final minutes.
The Huskers, however, have no interest in making that argument.
While they were pleased with their overall effort in the 77-69 loss to the Tigers, the players weren't about to be content with a close defeat instead of a win. Compared to how low NU got towards the end of last season, that insistence on producing results could very well be the biggest difference in this year's team.
"You really don't get an A for effort," junior guard Toney McCray said. "Especially in the Big 12, nobody's handing out wins for almost getting there or being close. Either way, a loss is a loss, whether it's by one or by 20. It hurts the same."
McCray said coming into the game the Huskers fully expected to walk into Mizzou Arena pull out an upset victory over the Tigers. Last year, he said, that confidence was lacking.
"I think it's just more about believing," McCray said. "Last year, we believed we could win, but sometimes on the road we'd get some match-ups where it was kind like, 'Well, we don't have a chance tonight.' Last night, it seemed like we believed we could win, and no matter what the score was we just kept fighting and fighting, and the whole game we thought we could win. We felt we were just right there."
Head coach Doc Sadler said as far as the combination of talent, experience and chemistry goes, this year's team could very well be the best he's had in his five season in Lincoln.
More than anything, he said having a roster full of players who have gone through the grind of the Big 12 season once before would be the biggest advantage that was undeniably missing in 2009-10.
Last year, then-sophomore guard Brandon Richardson was the only player on the active roster who had played in a Big 12 game entering the start of the conference schedule. This season, seven players had Big 12 experience coming into the start of league play.
"I don't think we had anybody who had gone through it the year before," Sadler said. "You look at Brandon Richardson, he was on the team (in 2008-09) but he didn't play a lot of minutes. So we really didn't have anybody last year besides the two seniors (Ryan Anderson and Sek Henry), so it's made a big difference.
With that said, Sadler believes this year's team is the most well equipped to compete in the Big 12 that he's had at Nebraska. Considering the Huskers now have to turn around and travel to take on undefeated and third-ranked Kansas on Saturday, that newfound confidence will definitely be put to the test.
"As I told the team, I think this is the first year since I've been here that every time we get on the court we should have the mindset that we don't have to play like a Superman to win," Sadler said. "The deck is stacked against us. I mean, not a lot of people go to Missouri and then go to Kansas. We were the ones who went to Missouri and didn't get it done. We've got to go over there (to Kansas) and play a very, very good basketball team at home, but I'm confident we're going to do that."
Around the rim
***For the past two games against Iowa State and Missouri, Sadler said the key for Nebraska was limiting the number of scoring opportunities opponents got both in transition and in the point. In both cases, the Huskers failed to do a good job at stopping either.
Once again, Sadler said those would be the keys to upsetting the Jayhawks on Saturday, especially controlling the tempo and limiting fast-break points.
"(Our transition defense) hasn't been good at all," Sadler said. "We just have to continue to work on it and emphasize it. Bottom line, the next 14 games we're going to have to be much better at it than we are right now. We just have to keep working on it."
***Sadler said junior guard Eshaunte Jones was expected to be back in Lincoln Thursday night, though he could be delayed until Friday depending on possible weather-related issues. Jones has been with his family in Indiana all week after his grandmother passed away.
***Sadler said not having Jones's perimeter shooting ability against Missouri may have hurt the Huskers a bit, especially when the Tigers moved to a zone defense that allowed a number of open 3-point attempts in the second half.
"One thing about Missouri, the way they play they do give you some open looks," Sadler said "Although we hit six 3s, there were two or three that if he were taking them (we might have made). But at the same time, who knows? You can't speculate on what-ifs."
***As for Jones' status for Saturday's game against Kansas, Sadler said he didn't think Jones missing three days of practice and Wednesday's game would hurt him enough to keep him out of the lineup.
"If I think he can help us he's going to play," Sadler said.