LAWRENCE, Kan. - For 30 minutes, Nebraska went blow-for-blow with the No. 1-ranked team in the country.
Unfortunately for the Huskers, they simply couldn't keep up with the Jayhawks down the stretch, as KU pulled away in the final 10 minutes and made a close game end in a 75-64 loss.
As has been the story all season, Nebraska (13-10 overall, 1-7 Big 12 Conference) went on another crucial scoring drought late in the game, allowing Kansas (22-1, 8-0) to turn a four-point deficit into a lead that reached as much as 19 midway through the second half.
During the KU rally, the Huskers went more than six minutes without a field goal and 4:15 without scoring a single point while the Jayhawks put together a 15-1 run. Including Tuesday's loss to No. 10 Kansas State, Nebraska has fallen to two straight top-10 opponents in five days.
"I thought our guys really played hard. (Allen Fieldhouse) is probably one of the best places in college basketball to play, and we had some guys who came in here and competed," NU head coach Doc Sadler said. "(But) the key plays that had to be made in the ball game, Kansas made them. That's why they're where they're at and that's why we're where we're at. I challenged the team in there. Until we start making the plays that are 50-50 plays, then we're going to struggle. But the effort, in my opinion, was as good as we can do."
Though it my not have been the prettiest display, Nebraska played about as well as it could have hoped for in the first half, trailing just 37-33 going into halftime.
Despite 11 first-half turnovers, the Huskers were able to stay with the Jayhawks even after KU went on several big runs. However, even after cutting the deficit to one possession on a couple of occasions, NU couldn't seem to get over the hump and take the lead.
After bringing the score to 15-13 in the early minutes, Kansas went on a 7-0 run to bump the lead back up to 22-13 with 11:36 left in the half. The lead didn't stay safe for long, though, as six straight points from freshman forward Christian Standhardinger helped Nebraska bring the score back to 24-21 on a steal and lay-up by junior guard Lance Jeter with 9:25 remaining.
Once again, the Jayhawks answered just in time with another 7-0 run that bumped the lead back up to 30-21 with a little more than 6:30 left in the half.
Fortunately for the Huskers, freshman forward and Kansas native Brandon Ubel hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 33-29 with just over four minutes left, and a free-throw by junior forward Quincy Hankins-Cole cut the deficit to 34-31 with 1:51 to play in the half.
Things got a little interesting in the half's final seconds, as Kansas's bench was hit with a technical foul after arguing a questionable no-call on a loose ball with 19.3 remaining. Sophomore guard Brandon Richardson hit the first of his technical free throws, but missed the second and then was called for a 5-second violation on the ensuing possession to end the half at 37-33.
Nebraska continued its momentum on into the second half, as it opened with a 10-2 to take a 43-39 lead. After a KU timeout, though, it was all Kansas from there on out.
Sparked by a 3-pointer by senior guard Sherron Collins following the timeout, the Jayhawks responded with a 15-1 run of their own. Senior center Cole Aldrich, who played just five minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, scored six straight points during the rally.
Things got even worse for the Huskers when Richardson fouled out with 9:55 remaining, leaving NU short one of its top scorers for the rest of the game.
"There was a lot of time left. A lot of time left," Sadler said. "We knew Collins was going to try and come back and get them going on the next two or three plays, and sure enough he does. He hits a 3 - we lost him and he went ball side and jumps up and hits a 3 - and that's what great players do."
It wasn't until the 9:11 mark when Nebraska finally ended a six-minute stretch without a field goal, as Diaz hit a basket to cut the deficit to 54-46. As before, it didn't take Kansas to put an end at any chance of a rally, as it came back with another 12-2 run to bulk its lead up to 66-48.
The Huskers made one last late push in the final five minutes and came back to within nine points, but it was too little, too late to pull off a miracle.
"One mistake can just snowball," senior guard Ryan Anderson said. "Against a good team like that, they just capitalize. After being up 43-39 and then going down 45-43 within like two minutes - it was like boom, boom. That's how fast it happens. Hopefully these guys can learn from this. Me and (Sek Henry), this is our last go-around, but we can still fight it out as hard as we can this year."
Diaz led the way with a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds, while Anderson added 12 points. Sophomore forward Marcus Morris led KU with 20 points and 11 boards, and Collins finished with 17 points.
The defeat marked Nebraska's 15th straight loss to Kansas and the Jayhawks' 55th straight victory at Allen Fieldhouse. The Huskers will have little rest before facing yet another top-25 opponent when No. 24 Baylor (who fell to Texas A&M on Saturday) comes to town on Wednesday night.
"I'm not giving up," Anderson said. "It's hard right now, and stuff is looking foggy where we're at right now, but anything's possible."
Diaz has another solid game versus Aldrich, KU
For the second time this season, Diaz posted one of his better offensive performances of the year against what was supposed to be the biggest challenge of his career.
With a game-high 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field to go along with a team-best nine rebounds, Diaz helped Nebraska stay with top-ranked Kansas until the final minutes.
While his cause may have been helped by having Aldrich, a preseason All-American and potential NBA lottery pick, on the court for just 21 minutes, Diaz's play on one of the Huskers' biggest stages was one encouraging aspect of Saturday's loss.
"He made shots," Sadler said. "He's gotten the same shots, if not more, against some other teams, but he hasn't made them. In our two games against Kansas, he's made them. We've got to see now if he can follow up and have another one."
After Aldrich was sent to bench with three fouls in the game's first six minutes, Diaz was able to come up with some big plays around the basket on both ends of the court. However, Aldrich came back and scored all eight of his points in the second half, including a monster dunk that helped fuel KU's 15-1 run which all but put the game away.
It was a mixed performance for the Puerto Rico native, but both he and Sadler said they were happy with his overall results against one of the nation's top centers.
"I got some good passes from my teammates, and I guess my shots were just falling," Diaz said. "I was playing with confidence, but it took my team to help… It's a big challenge anytime you play against a guy that's an NBA player. I get kind of motivated every time I play him."
Anderson breaks 1,000-point career scoring mark
He may not have cared much at the time, but with 12 points on the night Anderson broke the 1,000-point scoring mark for his career, giving him 1,010 points in his 113 games at Nebraska.
Anderson is the 25th Husker to achieve the milestone and the first since Aleks Maric reached it in his junior season in 2006-07. He's also the sixth Husker to score 1,000 points in the Big 12 era. With 236 points on the year, Anderson is on pace to record the most productive scoring season of his career.
As could be expected, though, Anderson said he would trade all of his points to add a few more victories to his career total.
"That's a great accomplishment in some people's eyes, but I'd trade it for 1,000 wins in my four years," Anderson said. "I'd trade all of those (points) for wins. I guess that's good. It's just me trying to help my team."