Erick Strickland is a staunch supporter of Nebraska Coach Doc Sadler.
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By Randy York
When P.A. announcer Patrick Combs introduced Erick Strickland Wednesday night in the first half of the Nebraska-Indiana basketball game, Husker fans responded warmly, appreciatively, even enthusiastically after seeing one of Nebraska’s greatest all-around athletes ever rise from his seat and react with the same energy he showed both at Nebraska and as a rookie starter playing against Michael Jordan in the NBA. Strickland remembers the way we were, and he wants to see his alma mater reach greater heights than what he experienced, such as winning the Big Eight Tournament Championship as a team in Kansas City and being named the MVP of the Huskers’ 1996 NIT national championship at Madison Square Garden.
Here’s betting Big Red fans would have given Strickland a standing ovation Wednesday night if they’d known he would address the Huskers briefly at halftime and helped reinforce a game plan that enabled Nebraska to come back strong in the second half and beat Indiana. The Hoosiers are, after all, the only team to defeat second-ranked Kentucky this season. Not coincidentally, Indiana also outlasted 6th-ranked Ohio State, Nebraska’s next Big Ten opponent at the Devaney Center Saturday. Tip-off is 7 p.m.
Saturday night will be career game No. 400 for Buckeye Coach Thad Matta, and the Huskers “are going to have to be scrappy and have to make the game ugly to beat Ohio State,” Strickland said. “To make it ugly, we have to have full energy. We need to be rested. We’re playing with a short bench, and guys are logging lots of minutes, so we have to be scrappy in certain situations and efficient with our energy. We need to go after loose balls and go inside on (Jared) Sullinger. We have to know our game plan and execute it to the T. Every mistake we make will cost us, especially rebounding. We’re going to have to rebound better than we ever have to win this game.”
Strickland is more than just a former player who flew in on a private plane to see NU’s win over Indiana and then return to Texas immediately after the upset. He’s a friend of Doc Sadler and a supporter of Nebraska’s head coach, so much so that Doc asked him to help inspire the team at halftime while Nebraska’s coaching staff huddled to finalize second-half strategy.
“I shared a couple of things in the locker room in the couple minutes I had,” Strickland said. “I liked the way we came out in the second half and executed and stayed aggressive. I was glad to see us penetrate and get deeper, so other guys could get wide-open looks. Jorge Brian Diaz did a wonderful job of maintaining the middle. That helped us play very good defense and stay scrappy to the end.”
One thing Strickland was particularly proud of after intermission was seeing the way Nebraska cut off the ball. “Indiana was just sitting in the lap of Diaz and (Brandon) Ubel when they got it to the post in the first half,” he said. “You have to cut off that. You may not get the ball, but you’re going to create some movement on the defense that frees up somebody else.”
Strickland couldn’t help smiling when Brandon Richardson made a sharp cut, got a layup, plus a foul shot. And he couldn’t help cheering when Dylan Talley became more aggressive on his second-half dribble, driving to the baseline where he pulled up and hit a jumper. Yes, Strickland felt a very small part of those two big plays, but gives all credit to Sadler and his staff for the way they teach and encourage players, even when injuries trim the ranks, forcing them to go into big battles with far less firepower. “I just encouraged them to stay aggressive and tried to inspire them to do what they were taught to do, so they’d have a chance to win the game,” Strickland said, “and that’s what they did.”
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