Bright spots have been few and far between for Nebraska this season, especially since the start of Big Ten Conference play. However, over the past few games at least, Brandon Ubel has been one of the few consistent positives for the Huskers.
While NU has now dropped seven of its last eight games, the 6-foot-10 junior forward has put up some impressive individual numbers. Over the past five contests, Ubel is shooting 74 percent from the field and averaging 11.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.
The Overland Park, Kan., native has been especially hot the last two outings. In last week's loss to No. 6 Michigan State, Ubel quietly had the best night of any Husker with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
In Wednesday night's loss to Iowa, Ubel scored a career-high 17 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting from the floor to go along with a team-high seven rebounds.
Having scored 30 points and making 13 of his past 16 shots in his last two games, it's obvious that Ubel has started take his game to the next level.
"It's easy when you're just shooting lay-ups a lot," Ubel said. "Guys have been penetrating pretty well, and my guys have helped (me) out a little bit. But I've just been a little more aggressive when I get the ball in the post, making quicker moves instead of waiting to see. Just being more aggressive has kind of been the story."
On the season, Ubel's 70 offensive rebounds rank third in the Big Ten and are the most by a Husker since All-Big 12 center Aleks Maric had 131 in 2007-08. He also currently ranks second in the conference with 2.5 offensive boards per game.
His play has been especially impressive considering he's had to play out of position ever since junior center Jorge Brian Diaz was lost for the season with a foot injury in early December.
Being Nebraska's only real presence in the post, Ubel has been asked to match-up with the biggest and strongest players opponents have to offer in starting the last 19 games at center in Diaz's absence.
"It's been different, that's for sure," Ubel said. "Just going up against their biggest, strongest, usually longest guy every game. It was difficult at first, that's for sure, but you kind of find your groove and you niche a little bit and kind of get angles and make sure you do your work early instead of just trying to make one-on-one moves."
With the way Ubel has been playing of late, head coach Doc Sadler said he's going to make it a point to feature him as one of the focal points of Nebraska's offense for the remainder of the season.
"I was disappointed we didn't get him the ball more that we did Wednesday night (against Iowa), because when you have that kind of night, you've got to realize that you've got to get him the basketball, and I didn't get it to him enough," Sadler said. "But I'm very happy with him. I think a lot of it goes back to he prepares each and every day. That's the bottom line. Give him credit."
Sadler said Ubel's work in the weight room all year has helped him handle his own and hold up physically as NU's primary option down low. Ubel said the experience he's gained from having to assume new responsibilities and take on new challenges would only make him a better player moving forward.
"I think it will definitely help," Ubel said. "When you're back down low, on offense and defense, you kind of see everything. So you're able to talk to guys a little more and communicate with them, because you can see what's going on in front of you and you're able to help them out a little more too. That's something I've tried to pick up a little bit."
One of the few starters who will be back next season, there's no question that the Huskers are going to be counting on Ubel more than ever as the team's veteran leader.
While Nebraska will have to replace a lot next season in terms of leadership and experience, Sadler said he wouldn't want anyone other than Ubel to take the reigns of the locker room.
"He's the type of person and player you need in a program," Sadler said. "There's nothing negative about Brandon Ubel being in anybody's program. I don't care whose program it is. I hope that - and I don't want to be speaking about next year yet - but I think the leadership that he'll provide is something that we need."