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By Randy York
One thing about Kenneth “Doc” Sadler: You have to love the Nebraska head basketball coach’s spirit, not mention his resilience. Despite his team’s rough start in the Big Ten Conference, Doc gave an impassioned, almost Uncle Sam-like plea for Husker fans to pack the Devaney Center Wednesday night for their 7:30 p.m. tipoff against Penn State. On his Monday night Husker Sports Network statewide radio show, Sadler was honest, upbeat and as persuasive as he could possibly be about finding a lost season with the possible return of two of his top three scorers and the impact they had at Illinois last Saturday and could have on a season that still includes home games against the Nittany Lions, plus Indiana, Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa.
“It’s early,” Sadler said. “We’re 0-and-4, and there’s nobody happy. I’m not happy. Our players aren’t happy, and I cannot stress it enough. If we’re ever going to be an NCAA Tournament team, we have to have the Devaney Center packed, win, lose, or whatever. We’re not good enough to just show up and beat people without having the sixth-man … our fans. WE NEED YOU! It’s our responsibility to give you a reason to come, but hang in there with us. I really, really believe that with these last seven home games, we have a chance to win each and every one of them, with your help. If we do that, then there’s going to be some good things with this team.”
Believe it or not, depending on how smooth Jorge Brian Diaz and Dylan Talley can work their way back into the Huskers’ starting lineup, there is hope for the resurrection of the 2011-12 basketball season. And just like Uncle Sam asked Americans to “Enlist Now” and help the United States win a war, Doc is asking faithful Big Red fans to “Enlist Now” and don’t wait one more game. “When we play Penn State Wednesday night, it’s a huge ball game for us and one we need to win,” Sadler said, adding: “And we can win if we have a great crowd, and they get behind us.” Fortunately, the Nebraska Ticket Office already has sold nearly 10,700 tickets for this pivotal game. With all the incentives now available to Nebraska basketball fans, Sadler would like to see that number climb through a JV Team Special, a $1 Pepsi Concession Special and Red Zone Bring a Friend Night that allows Red Zone members to bring another UNL student with into the arena for free.
Coming off last week’s stunning 20-point win at Purdue and taking No. 7 (AP) and No. 8 (Coaches) Indiana to the final seconds in State College, Penn State is the critical game in the crossroads of Nebraska’s season. It’s not like Sadler hasn’t been here before. “My first year here, we also started out 0-and-4 in the conference, and we ended up winning seven of our next 12 basketball games and made it into the NIT. Obviously, the NIT is not something we want to do. I still believe we’re an NCAA Tournament team if we can get everything clicking the right way.” That’s why Doc Sadler needs you now. “The bottom line is the Big Ten sells out almost every arena,” he said. “I understand fans who want to come out and support you, for the most part, if you’re winning. But the one thing about Nebraska fans is, they’ll support you if you play and give great effort, and these guys have done that. Our attitude is still great. The effort and the enthusiasm are things we can control, and we are controlling.”
Nebraska needs a large, boisterous crowd to be the X-Factor that changes the direction of a season that started with great promise, but took a dive when Diaz and Talley missed five consecutive games. Coming off a strained leg muscle that developed into a severe thigh bruise, Talley played 28 minutes at Illinois. Diaz missed two weeks of practice because of recurring foot problems and used custom orthotics to get back on the floor for 22 minutes against the Illini. Unfortunately, five minutes into his return, he sprained his ankle. “He was in the training room for four hours Sunday and didn’t practice Monday,” Sadler said of Diaz. “I don’t think people realize how much time these guys spend trying to get back on the floor.” Diaz and Talley are not listed as probable starters for the Penn State game. Diaz is more likely to play later in the week than Wednesday night. Both are lacking their usual conditioning, but Sadler needs both on the floor, just like he needs YOU in the stands. “I know they bring confidence to our team,” Doc said, “and the more they can be out there, the better this basketball team is going to be.”
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