Just when it looked like Nebraska was picking up a little momentum, it took another big step in the wrong direction.
Only one day after knocking off a tough Tulsa team to open the Las Vegas Classic on Tuesday, the Huskers were completely dominated in the championship game of the tournament Wednesday night in an 88-66 loss to BYU.
Nebraska (9-3) shot just 42 percent from the field on the night, which was actually an improvement compared to how it shot the ball to start the game. The Cougars (12-1) on the other hand were red hot from the floor, shooting 61 percent as a team and posting the highest opponent point total against the Huskers this season.
The previous high came in a 90-77 win over TCU.
Head coach Doc Sadler credited BYU's ability to exploit Nebraska with its transition offense as the biggest factor in the loss. The Cougars scored 40 of their 88 points in transition.
"Going into the game we knew that transition baskets was going to be something that was very, very important," Sadler said. "That has not been something that has been a problem with us, but when you give up 40 points in transition, you're not going to have a chance to win many basketball games."
Nebraska got off to the worst start imaginable, as it hit just one of its first seven shots from the field and let BYU get off to a 16-2 run to open the game. The Cougars eventually built their lead up to 20 with roughly 11 minutes to play, and the Huskers continued their shooting woes by going on to make only 2-of-14 from the floor.
The struggles didn't stop there, either. Nebraska eventually fell behind by its largest deficit of the night at 37-5 with a little less than nine minutes to play in the half.
The Huskers finally got their offense going late in the first half, as a pair of 3-pointers by redshirt freshman guard Eshaunte Jones helped spark an 18-1 run to make the score at least somewhat manageable going into halftime at 49-35.
Though it was able close the gap a bit to end the first half, early foul trouble by NU helped BYU bulk its lead back up 20 again at 63-43. The Cougars increased their lead back up to 26 with a little more than five minutes remaining in the game and stayed in full control of the game the rest of the way to end with a 22-point victory.
Jones and sophomore guard Brandon Richardson were two of the few highlights for NU in the loss, as they both came off the bench and scored a combined 34 points. Jones led the way with a team-high 21 points and shot 5-of-7 from 3-point range, while Richardson added 13 points and two steals.
As it turned out, the Huskers were at a disadvantage even before tip-off, as senior leader Ryan Anderson was a late scratch from the lineup due to a foot injury he suffered late in the win over Tulsa.
Even though the leading scorer on the season was stuck watching from the bench, Sadler said his team should have found a way to step up and fill the void.
"It doesn't matter," Sadler said. "We've lost a lot of guys, but you have who you have, and whoever suits up, that's who you've got to play. He wasn't able to play this evening, and for me to sit here and try to make excuses for that effort, that's not right. The guys that we have on the floor are guys that have worked extremely hard, and we should have put forth a better effort defensively than we did in transition."
Nebraska will get the next two days off for the holidays before returning to practice on Dec. 26. The Huskers have three straight home games against the likes of Southern Utah, Maryland Eastern Shore and Southeastern Louisiana to try and get back on track before their Big 12 Conference opener on the road against Texas A&M on Jan. 9.
If they are going to have any chance of surviving their league schedule, Sadler said the Huskers are going to have to make lots of progress in a short period of time.
"The bottom line is Brigham Young just played much harder than we did tonight and did a much better job of executing," Sadler said. "We've got to put this loss behind us, enjoy the next few days with our families and get back on the 26th. We've got a lot of work to do between the 26th and 9th.
"We've got to be willing to get better, and it's not going to be easy. We've got to be willing to work very hard. If they come back and do what they've done, then there's no doubt in my mind come Jan. 9 we'll be ready to play."