There's no question that the headline of Nebraska's win over South Dakota on Friday night was the play of junior center Andre Almeida.
In his official Division-I debut, the 6-foot-11, 310-pound Almeida scored a team-high 20 points and hauled in seven rebounds to provide a much-needed spark in an otherwise flat performance by the Huskers.
In Nebraska's two exhibition games and Friday's win over the Coyotes, the Sau Paulo, Brazil, native has averaged 13.6 points and 6.3 rebounds, and he's well on his way to living up to some of the hype he received coming in out of Arizona Western College this summer.
The most exciting aspect of Almeida's play so far, though, may be the fact that he's stepped up and taken over games when the Huskers have needed it the most.
"I think it was pretty good," Almeida said of his regular-season debut. "I cannot say I'm going to have 20 points every night, but I'll give my best. I know if I get eight, six points, but we get a win, that's what matters. What you can expect from me is not 20 points every night, but hard work when I'm out there."
Though he's just three games into his career in Lincoln, Almeida's play thus far has come as no surprise to his teammates, who say they could tell he was bound for an immediate impact based on his play in practice.
"He takes up so much space that they can't get around him," sophomore forward Brandon Ubel said. "I know from experience in practice. You really can't get around him. If you try to, he moves his feet and gets in the right positions to score. If you play behind him, he'll just shoot over you. He's tough to guard, and when he's in there we need to get him the ball."
If there's been one knock on Almeida, though, it's been his level of conditioning, which he'll be the first admit wasn't nearly where it should have been when he first stepped on campus.
Head coach Doc Sadler said Almeida has put in countless hours of training to get into better shape, and while he's made great progress over the past month, he still has a long way to go before he can put in consistent minutes.
Almeida has played an average of 20 minutes a game in NU's first three contests, and both he and Sadler said the 19 minutes he played against South Dakota were about as much as he could effectively give at this point.
"I think he can probably play more than 19, but I think there was one stretch where he played too long and they got two offensive rebounds where he would've gotten those rebounds if he would've been fresh," Sadler said.
"At some points, I'm not going to lie, I got tired," Almeida said. "But it's always a process. I'm getting in better shape, working every day. It's a process. I think I definitely ran better than in my first game."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
While Almeida was on his game against South Dakota, Nebraska's backcourt definitely was not. The Huskers' guards combined to shoot just 6-of-25 from the field to go along with 12 turnovers. The Huskers will obviously try to continue to work the ball inside offensively, but keep an eye on how their perimeter guys respond tonight after a lackluster performance against the Coyotes.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE HUSKERS:
In his first game in nearly a full calendar year, junior guard Toney McCray scored seven points and tied Almeida with a team-high seven rebounds. He definitely wasn't perfect, though, as he also committed a game-high three turnovers. Still, in his first live action since the third game of last season, McCray's return went about as well as could be expected, and he should only continue to get better as he settles in.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE GOLDEN LIONS:
Junior guard Savalace Townsend, Arkansas-Pine Bluff's leading scorer from last season (9.9 points per game), had 12 points in Saturday's 82-51 loss to Colorado State. Townsend is also the Golden Lions' leading 3-point shooter from last season, as he shot 35.6 percent from beyond the arc in 2009-10.