Youth steps up in Huskers first Big 12 win
There were several plays during Nebraska's win over Oklahoma on Saturday that gave reason to believe that a light had finally turned on for the Huskers' cast of promising but inexperienced underclassmen.
It just so happened that redshirt freshmen center Jorge Brian Diaz had the most memorable of them all.
After Oklahoma had cut NU's lead to 11 with a little more than six minutes left in the game, Diaz threw down a put-back dunk off a Brandon Richardson miss that gave the Huskers a huge lift in momentum and helped them hold on for their first Big 12 Conference win of the season.
While's Diaz's dunk stood out as one of the plays of the game, it was only one example of Nebraska's young players collectively stepping up arguably more than they had all season and getting a desperately needed victory.
All together, first- and second-year players accounted for 46 points and 27 rebounds and scored the final 17 points of the game against the Sooners.
As the Huskers get ready for yet another huge test tonight when they play host to No. 10 Kansas State at 7:05 pm, all eyes will watching to see if the future of Nebraska basketball can continue to take another big step forward.
"I always want to win," said Diaz, who scored eight of his 10 points in the second half on Saturday. "I'm only a freshman, but if I was a senior I don't know if it would be any different. I still want to win. I think everybody on the team wants to win. It really kind of hurt me when I saw the seniors get pissed off when we lost. I could really feel them, because this is their last year and we want to do good and let them leave here with good memories. We all want to win every game, no matter if you're a freshman for a senior."
Diaz said the entire team came into the game against OU not concerned necessarily as much with winning and losing, but more with simply coming out and playing as hard and aggressive as it possibly could for a full 40 minutes.
By taking off the pressure of feeling like they had to play their best game to finally get a Big 12 win, Diaz said the Huskers played with as much energy as they had all year.
"I kind of took some pressure off myself," he said. "I was thinking before the game that it's not going to matter if I play good or bad. I'm just going to play hard and aggressive and be positive the whole game, no matter how well I do. I just wanted to get that win.
"We knew we needed this win, and for some reason everyone was just playing with a lot of energy. The mentality was that it didn't matter if we win or lose, we're just going to play hard and be aggressive the whole game."
Head coach Doc Sadler said the team's rejuvenated attitude began during the first practice following last week's disappointing loss at Colorado, where he said it was the first time he felt his team was out-worked in his four seasons at NU.
Whether or not the Huskers can maintain the level of play they showed Saturday night for the rest of the season is definitely questionable, especially considering they're about to play five straight games against teams currently ranked in the top 25.
Either way, there's no doubt it was a relief to see Nebraska's young roster respond from a major setback by take a huge step in the right direction.
"At least we're standing on the line now," Sadler said. "I think we were behind it after the Colorado game. I was disappointed as much as anything after that game with not being ahead of it. I think we got back to the line now, but I think Tuesday night we're going to really find out what side of it we're on.
"What is one win going to do? I don't know. I hope it means that you like the feeling and you want to get another one. I'm sure they like the feeling, but I'm still not convinced that these guys understand how difficult it's fixing to be. I mean, it's fixing to be difficult."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Both Nebraska and Kansas State come into tonight's showdown on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. While the Huskers are riding higher than they have in nearly a month, the Wildcats are tying to regroup after a physically and emotionally draining overtime loss to archrival Kansas on Saturday. Keep an eye on how KSU's responds following such a tough loss, as they could still be dragging a bit in a game they should win on paper. However, they could also come in hungrier for a win than ever.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE HUSKERS:
It looks as if Nebraska has a new emerging face of the team in sophomore guard Brandon Richardson. Though he's been the Huskers' most consistent all-around player all season, Richardson came up bigger than ever on Saturday, leading the way with a game-high 16 points off the bench. More than anything, he was far more aggressive with the basketball than he'd been all year, and it appears he's finally starting to embrace the role of being one of NU's leaders offensively.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS:
There's little doubt who Kansas State's leader on the floor has been this season, as senior guard Jacob Pullen currently ranks among the nation's top-35 scorers with an average of 19.3 points per game. In Saturday's loss to the Jayhawks, Pullen had 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting and posted five assists in 41 minutes of action.