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C O M M E N T A R Y
T A D    S T R Y K E R
February 7, 2009

More than 11,000 fans roared so loudly as Nebraska knocked off Texas 58-55 Saturday at the Bob Devaney Sports Center that you might not have noticed it.

The sound of the Texas hex breaking.

A University of Nebraska men's team winning a close one at home on national television against the top 20-rated Longhorns? It's been a long time coming.

Frank Solich and Bill Callahan couldn't quite get the job done in Memorial Stadium from 1998 to 2006. Three times during that span, the Longhorns made a dramatic play late in the game to pull out a narrow victory. In 1996, Tom Osborne's highly rated Huskers lost to Texas in the inaugural Big 12 title game. Three years later, Solich and the Huskers got a measure of revenge by beating the Longhorns 22-6 for the conference championship, but Nebraska hasn't defeated the Longhorn football team in Lincoln since the Great Depression.

In basketball, things hadn't gone much better for Nebraska against the Longhorns, who had defeated NU seven consecutive times since the Huskers won an 80-67 decision over 23rd-rated Texas in 2001, Barry Collier's first season as coach. The Huskers fell by just four in Austin last year, and in 2006, they missed two very makeable shots in the final seconds to lose 62-61 in Lincoln.

Saturday's win was so stunning that absolutely no one left the Devaney Center early. Holding that crowd to the very end may be Doc Sadler's finest accomplishment Saturday. But Sadler also came up with the biggest win of his three-year tenure in Lincoln, and he did it with a bunch of players who shouldn't have been able to stay with the much bigger, more athletic Texas team.

Maybe Bo Pelini was taking notes somewhere.

In a game where the lead changed 13 times, Texas (15-7 overall, 4-4 Big 12) seemed to have things going its way midway through the second half. It had put together a 19-4 run to finish the first half and continued to take control in the second, using its height and rebounding advantage to its advantage.

NU, which had been milking the clock and keeping the pace slow, was starting to cave in and let the Longhorns force the tempo. When all-conference candidate A.J. Abrams hit a three-pointer with 10:57 to go, Texas led 42-32 and most Husker fans were starting to accept the inevitable.

The outsized Cornhuskers needed a big advantage in outside shooting and free throw shooting to win, and they were getting neither. Senior guard Paul Velander had only six points, on two of five shooting from three-point range.

But Ade Dagunduro, a 6-foot-5 senior guard, led the charge for the Huskers. Dagunduro had 17 points and a career-high nine rebounds for Nebraska, and he hit the biggest shot of his career – a freelance three-pointer from the left wing with 50 seconds to play – that stretched Nebraska's lead to 56-52.

The Huskers couldn't have come back without a pair of big baskets from freshman Toney McCray and a shot clock-beating trey from sophomore Cookie Miller which gave NU the lead at 46-45 with 6:21 left. And they wouldn't have been close without six points and three rebounds from junior forward Chris Balham, who at 6-8, gave Nebraska 17 minutes' worth of some much-needed size inside despite a chronically aching knee.

Texas went ahead 50-48 on a dunk by Gary Johnson with just under three minutes left, and Sadler chose that juncture to burn his final timeout and steady his team. His strategy worked. Sek Henry hit a three to give the Huskers the lead again, and Nebraska outscored Texas 10-5 down the stretch.

Sadler, who got his first-ever road win over Colorado earlier in the week, is getting a lot out of this team. The Huskers are 15-7, and more importantly, are above .500 in the second half of the conference race for the first time in three years.

One of the smallest teams in the nation, Nebraska had a series of bad luck when it lost three close games to three excellent teams – Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas – in January. Sadler called in Osborne, and the athletic director gave the team a simple message: keep battling like you have been, and good things will happen.

Nebraska has won three in a row since that point, and Osborne had a postgame hug for Sadler, a folksy Arkansan who seems to be getting well settled in Lincoln. He has his team playing hard, and unselfishly. The Huskers got some good breaks against Texas, but they can thank their resiliency and a fantastic work ethic on defense for putting them in position to win.

If Sadler can get this team to an 8-8 finish in the Big 12 regular season, he will have really accomplished something. It's well within the realm of possibility, especially in a season where the Longhorns couldn't steal another one in Lincoln.

 

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com. | Archive

 
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