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February 4, 2010With a little more than nine minutes remaining in Nebraska's 76-57 loss to No. 10 Kansas State on Tuesday, senior guard Sek Henry looked up in the stands and watched numerous Husker fans begin to file out of the Devaney Center.
Shortly after, he watched Wildcat fans steadily fill the stands directly behind the KSU bench and all but completely drown out any support the remaining NU supporters could muster up.
It was a sight Henry had never been a part of in his entire basketball career, and it was obviously one he never wants to see again.
While he admitted that the Huskers (12-9 overall, 1-6 Big 12 Conference) have severely underperformed this season, Henry was critical of Husker fans opting to leave the game midway through the second half and let an opposing fan base take over their home court.
"I've noticed that at Nebraska sometimes," Henry said. "Maybe not (opposing fans) behind the bench, but they'll be up in the stands. Even Iowa State fans do that. They get real loud here. I kind of don't really like that because sometimes the other team's crowd gets louder than our home fans, or they take more initiative. Like, even when their team comes out, they're loud for their team. When we come out, it's a cool reaction, but we're the home team.
"But we're losing right now, and maybe that's why they're acting the way they are right now. You just have to try and turn things around, and it will get a lot better."
After finally snapping its winless streak in Big 12 play last weekend with a victory of Oklahoma, Nebraska was completely outmatched by the Wildcats in basically every aspect.
As if it weren't hard enough to get the team back on track and try and salvage anything for the rest of the season, Henry said negative fan support from the home fan base hasn't exactly helped the process. Even so, he said it all comes to back to the team in terms turning the season around, no matter what fans or anyone else says or thinks.
"We know it's all about us," Henry said. "The fans aren't here when we practice. They're here when it comes to game time. So I mean, we've just got to be able to overcome that kind of stuff. But I saw them leaving with like 10 or nine minutes left in the game. Like, lots of people. It was really obvious. You just have to overcome stuff like that and turn things around. Right now, we're losing, so people are going to talk bad about us. That's just what happens."
Head coach Doc Sadler was far more diplomatic in his response to Tuesday night's events. Rather than take an us-against-the-world approach, he instead acknowledged the fans' right to be upset about NU's performance this season.
Sadler said his ultimate goal was to give Nebraska fans a product they could be proud of, and with a 68-49 overall record with the Huskers, he admitted he has yet to fulfill that goal.
"I don't get concerned about that," Sadler said. "When I came here, I wanted to please two people. I want my players, when it's all said and done, to say that he gave everything he had. The other thing is I want to please our fans, because they sacrifice a lot to come to these basketball games. The last person that I would ever criticize is somebody that paid money to come into this building and watch us play. If they decide they want to leave early, then hey, obviously we're not doing what we need to do. I don't put it on them. I put it on us.
"To be honest with you, I didn't even notice it until the last minute when I noticed a bunch of Kansas State people down here. It may have been when I was walking over to shake hands with (KSU head coach Frank Martin). I didn't notice that. Maybe some of our players shouldn't have been paying so much attention to the stands and they did the floor.
"I come to work every day to do those two things. I want to please these guys first, and I want to give these fans at Nebraska something that they never had, and I haven't done it yet."
Huskers trying to regroup, again
Just when Nebraska thought it hadn't taken its first step in the right direction against Oklahoma, Kansas State came along and sent everything back to zero.
Now with a trip to take on No. 1 Kansas next up on the schedule, the Huskers are trying to find a way to make up for more lost ground in arguably one of the most difficult places in the country to do so.
"We had taken a step forward when we beat Oklahoma, and then we took two steps back by just letting K-State just do whatever they wanted against us," Henry said. "That loss, we really got whooped on on our home floor. I felt embarrassed and disrespected. At the same time, you just have to get over it, move on and make sure it doesn't ever happen again."
The lone shred of good news about Nebraska's current situation is that it played one of its best overall games of the season when the Jayhawks came to town last month. While the game ended in an 84-72 loss, the Huskers had one of their best offensive performances of the year, shooting 43.4 percent from the field and 51 percent from 3-point range.
If nothing else, the previous meeting gives NU some confidence that it can play with Kansas.
"We know we can, we just have to be mentally tough," Henry said. "When you play road games, it's all about begin mentally tough. It's hard, but you have to be able to do that. For us to have a chance to win, that's what we've got to do."
Sadler focused on not losing his team to the 'grind'
There was definitely plenty for Sadler to be upset about during Tuesday night's loss, but one thing in particular worried him more than anything.
It wasn't the fact that Nebraska appeared physically out-matched and unprepared for the Wildcats. It was that the team seemed almost to accept the loss as inevitable even though the game was far from over.
"As I said after the game, the thing I'm more upset about is the mental breakdowns," Sadler said. "I thought for the first time, maybe there was a look in their eyes that the game was over before it was over. I hate to say that I didn't think that would happen. I'm surprised it hadn't happened earlier, especially when you start off 0-5. Those things are going to happen."
Sadler said he's considered changing up his daily practice routine to give his team some sort of mental break, but he wanted to make sure he didn't stray too far from the primary objective of making sure his players were ready to play each game.
"I've thought about having some people come in and talk to them and let them maybe hear it from somebody else," Sadler said. "As a coach, you get concerned about a lot of things, but one of the things that you get concerned about is the grind of the season. That's the thing that I've got to protect myself against - not letting up on demanding the things that you have to do to win, but also understand that for some of these guys, it isn't fun at first. It can become a grind."
Henry confident he can shut down Collins
Kansas's All-American guard Sherron Collins may have scored a game-high 22 points in the first meeting on Jan. 13, but as far as Henry is concerned, Collins didn't do anything special.
Coming into the game, Henry had been assigned to be personally responsible for locking down Collins every time they were on the court together. As far as Henry could remember, he accomplished his mission.
Of Collins' 22 points, Henry said only eight of them came when he was guarding him. How accurate that actually is is debatable, but if nothing else Henry seems confident he can equal the same success defensively against one of the Big 12's best scorers on Saturday.
"I think I really did slow him down," Henry said. "I know a lot of times when I did come out, he started hitting some 3's and stuff on us. When I was in the game, I know I kind of contained him a lot better. I just tried to make sure I stayed in front of him and made him shoot contested shots. He's a very good player, and if you go for all his (fakes), then he's very, very hard to guard."
Sadler said he would use Henry the same way as last time on Collins. However, he said it would take more than one player to shut down a player of Collins' caliber.
"It takes a whole group of guys to defend that guy," Sadler said. "I don't know if there's a tougher, more clutch player in college basketball than Sherron Collins right now. He may go along there and not do anything, but if they need a basket, he'll jump up and hit a 3. He's just a tough, tough, tough, tough, very tough player. He's been through it."
As would be expected, Henry was a bit more confident in his chances.
"I know I can guard him, and I know I can do a really good job on him," Henry said. "If I slow him down, that's good for us. If I contain him to two points, and his average is 16 (15.5) points, then that means I had 14 points that game, because I stopped him. That's how I'm looking at this game."
Around the rim
***Sadler said he took the team's day off on Wednesday to hit the road recruiting, as he went to watch a junior college game that night. He did not specify where the game was or which schools were playing, however.
***Though Kansas State is barely ranked in the top 10, Sadler said the Wildcats were one of the best teams he's coached against since coming to Nebraska.
"We played a good basketball team Tuesday night," he said. "I think probably it's the second-best team that's been on this floor in the four years that I've been here."
***Freshman forward Brandon Ubel has certainly gone through some rough learning patches in recent weeks while getting his first taste of Division I basketball. Still, Sadler said Ubel has handled himself as well as he could have hoped for considering the circumstances.
"We're asking Brandon to play against guys who are very, very good, but he competes," Sadler said. "I'm sure he would like to be doing this or that better, but I'm very pleased with Brandon Ubel? I think he is one of the toughest kids we've got. He understands."
***One thing Nebraska has going for it heading into Saturday's game is the fact that Kansas has played two straight overtime games. Though the Jayhawks found a way to win both games, their play offensively has been spotty at times.
"I looked at their stuff, and they made four 3s and missed 20 free throws," Sadler said. "I hope they do that Saturday. If they do, then we're going to have a chance. We always seem to bring out the best on the other offense."