January 14, 2009

Unfocused Huskers fall to Cyclones 65-53

AMES, Iowa -- Senior guard Ade Dagunduro bundled himself up in his winter coat and black Nebraska stocking cap to prepare himself for the sub-zero temperatures that awaited outside of Hilton Coliseum.

Compared to the sick feeling he had in his gut, though, the cold didn't seem all that bad.

Following Nebraska's 65-53 loss to Iowa State on Wednesday, Dagunduro and the rest of the Huskers (10-4, 1-1 Big 12) could only shake their heads in disappointment, as a game they thought they should've won was lost, in their opinion, because of their own mistakes.

A combination of shooting as cold as the weather and numerous mental breakdowns on defense had the Huskers playing catch-up the majority of the game. Even after they tied it back up late in the second at 45-45 with 6 minutes, 30 seconds to go, the Cyclones (12-6, 1-1) were able to jump right back off of NU miscues.

"This was huge," said Dagunduro, who led NU with 13 points. "We would've been able to start the Big 12 Conference 2-0 with a home game against Kansas State on Saturday. It's just a devastating loss."

Head coach Doc Sadler cited a team-wide lack of concentration on both ends of the floor to the majority of the Huskers' woes on Wednesday. One of the two that irked him the most were the six 3-pointers made by ISU's Lucca Staiger when the primary goal defensively was to keep him from getting open 3-point shots.

The other was Nebraska's lack of urgency to get the ball up court offensively and instead settling into its half-court offense. As a result, the Huskers' height disadvantage was exploited, and they were forced to shoot rushed shots that hardly went in.

All together, NU shot 34.5 percent (20-of-58) from the field compared to Iowa State's 46 percent.

"The concentration was as bad as it's been in the three years I've been here in this basketball game," Sadler said. "The entire game. I mean, we're going to face guard Staiger? How many 3s did he get? Six. (We said) we're not leaving him. We're not leaving him, and we left him for six 3s.

"You know, we're going to give up points to (Craig Brackins) inside. We know that. We know that. But now you add the fact that we're going to give up 18 points (to Staiger), when you're not supposed to give up any? That's why they won the basketball game. They executed better than we did."

Despite horrendous shooting throughout the first half, Nebraska was able to keep the game close through the first 10 minutes. That was until Iowa State broke away with a 15-1 run behind two 3-pointers by Staiger and Jamie Vanderbeken and a 3 the old fashioned way by Brackins.

The run gave ISU a 27-14 lead with 4:29 left in the half, and a last-second 3-pointer by Bryan Petersen sent the Huskers into halftime tailing by 12 at 32-20. Nebraska shot just 25.8 percent from the field (8-of-31) in the first half, and was just 2-of-10 from beyond the arc.

For as bad as the first ended, though, Nebraska was able to turn things around in the second with a 6-0 run to open the half that cut the deficit to seven. But the Cyclones responded with a 7-0 run of their own, capped by another Staiger 3, to go back up 39-26.

Despite their struggles offensively, the Huskers were resilient enough to slowly claw their way back to within two with just under 10 minutes to play. Back-to-back 3s by senior Paul Velander tied the game up at 45-45 with 6:30 on the clock.

Nebraska was able to stay within striking distance up until the 2-minute mark, when Iowa State sealed up the victory with 10 unanswered points to close the game.

Brackins finished with a game-high 21 points and 12 rebounds, while sophomore guard Cookie Miller finished with 11 points, four assists and three steals for the Huskers.

Nebraska will look to get back on track when they play host to Kansas State on Saturday at 5 p.m.

"It's very frustrating," Miller said. "This is a game we thought we should've won, and when the outcome came out, we didn't."

No explanations for concentration lapse

The obvious theme following Wednesday's loss was a total lack of concentration by the Huskers. However, neither Sadler nor his players could give a solid explanation for it.

Sadler said he'd seen an overall lapse in his team's focus since the start of practice on Monday.

"On Monday it was terrible," he said. "Monday at practice. Why? I don't know, but it was bad Monday."

Dagunduro said he noticed a poor focus from the team all week as well, saying he could definitely see how it affected the team's performance against the Cyclones. In particular, the Huskers' inability to contain Staiger was one of the biggest examples.

"It started on our first practice on Monday. We just weren't concentrating right at practice, and I think that built up to this game right here… Coming into the game, the coaches said 'Don't leave Staiger. Absolutely do not leave Staiger.' For some reason, like I said, maybe it was because of our concentration, we just kept leaving him wide open and he just kept knocking down shots."

Miller said he noticed it as well, but said the Huskers should have been able to put a few bad practices behind them and gotten themselves mentally prepared on game day,

"We've just got to come ready to play," Miller said. "I mean, practice do got a big part in it, but when the game comes, we've got to step up to the opportunity. You might have some bad days, but when it's time to play, regardless of what happened in the past, you've got to be ready to play and step up."

While no one had a good answer for Nebraska's poor focus, Dagunduro put it on himself and the rest of the seniors to figure out a way to solve it.

"It starts with our seniors," he said. "Our seniors can't let lack of concentrations happen in practice. It's on me, Steve, Paul and Nick (Krenk) to get these guys going at practice as soon as we get back."

Slow start result of passive offensive strategy

In Sadler's mind, there's a big reason why Nebraska scored 13 more points in the second half than it did in the first.

Because the Huskers weren't able to get their transition offense going by forcing turnovers early on, Sadler said they conceded to running a slow-paced half-court offense against the bigger Cyclones, which worked directly into ISU's game plan.

He said NU was able to finally chip away at its deficit because it stepped up its intensity on defense and began forcing the issue offensively.

"That's something that we've got to do," Sadler said. "As I told the team at halftime, we had the mentality in the first half of walking the basketball up the court and playing in a half-court game. Who can we play in a half-court game with? Who? That's what I told them, you tell me who we can play in a half-court game with.

"We're going to come down there and shoot it really fast, and they're going to power it in there to Brackins and they're going to win the ball game, if you do that. They did what they were supposed to do better than what were supposed to do."

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