Unsettled Huskers open season against Coyotes

Though both ended in lopsided victories, it wasn't as if Nebraska came away from its two exhibition games against Peru State and Bellevue feeling like a team ready to take on the world.
Whether it was scoring droughts, poor rounding against smaller opponents or committing more turnovers in one night than they did in any game all of last season, the Huskers are definitely still far from a finished product.
As they get ready for tonight's regular season opener at home against South Dakota at 7 p.m., time is officially running out to shore up the problem areas. From here on out, the games all count.
"During practice we all gel together, but that's practice," junior guard Brandon Richardson said. "It's different in a game. It's going to take some time obviously to gel with all the guys, but the process is going along great and I just can't wait to be out there with them."
Part of the reason Nebraska stumbled somewhat through its two exhibition contests was due to the fact that it was never able to put its full lineup on the court. Because of various injury/academic issues, guards Toney McCray, Eshaunte Jones, forward Christian Standhardinger and Richardson were never all available to play together in either exhibition game.
As a result, head coach Doc Sadler said his team has yet to develop any real experience together against live competition as it heads into the start of the season.
With the first big test of the season coming as soon as next week when the Huskers head down to the Puerto Rico Shootout to take on the likes of Vanderbilt and West Virginia/Davidson, Sadler said these next two games versus USD tonight and Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Monday are going to be huge in getting his players on the same page.
When, or if, Nebraska can put together a fully healthy lineup, Sadler said his squad would look completely different than it has in exhibition play.
"More than anything, it's going to be a team hopefully that's not going to have scoring droughts because we'll have guys who can get to the free throw line," Sadler said. "We can't go more than three or four minutes without a basket. In the past, that's been a problem. It wasn't a problem when we had Aleks (Maric), but it's been a problem the last couple years. I think that's probably going to be the biggest difference."
While the competition the Huskers will see in the next two games might not be a whole lot better than what they've faced in exhibitions, Richardson said the players are looking forward to getting back on the court and continuing to get some chemistry going and finally learn how to play together when all their pieces are in place.
"Our biggest key right now is communication," Richardson said. "We tend to pretend that we're in a library and we can't talk out here. So we're just trying to preach to the guys that the more you talk, the more you help your teammates. I think Coach has really expressed that. We just need to focus on the details."
Around the rim
***Richardson, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the exhibition opener against Peru State, is expected to be ready to play tonight. Richardson said he made it through his first full practice on Tuesday and practiced again Wednesday, but guesses he's still only about 80 percent healthy.
***Sadler said the biggest improvement he saw from his team in exhibition play was its defense against dribble penetration. On the other end, he said the turnovers are somewhat of a concern, but he doesn't think they'll be as big of an issue as the season goes along.
***McCray also practiced Wednesday after missing the two exhibition games with plantar fasciitis in his foot. Sadler said he expects McCray to play tonight.
***Sadler said the two areas where South Dakota excels are in its shooting and its zone defense, which he said it mixes up with different formations and plays zone for all 40 minutes.
The big thing to watch tonight is how guys like McCray, Richardson and Standhardinger respond to what should be the most extensive playing time for all three players. Richardson played all of four minutes before going down with his ankle injury, and Standhardinger played just eight minutes while dealing with a bad cough. McCray hasn't even taken his warm-up suit off for a game, so how he's able to handle his foot issues will definitely be something to keep an eye on.
With seemingly every other key player on the bench the past two games, sophomore center Jorge Brian Diaz has had to pick up the slack on the offensive end. Diaz has averaged 15 points per game, including a game-high 17 points against Bellevue with Richardson and McCray on the bench and Standhardinger playing just eight minutes.
Sophomore guard Jake Thomas was a preseason first-team All-Great West Conference selection after averaging 13.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game as a freshman, as he leads a sharp-shooting squad that features six returning lettermen.