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December 19, 2011

Zone defenses giving Huskers fits this season

Nebraska's offensive struggles the past few games have definitely been no secret, as the Huskers have continuously found themselves having to battle back from sputtering starts.

The most glaring reoccurring theme from each of the past five games has been NU's struggles with having any sort of offensive consistency against zone defenses. With teams bringing different variations of zone each game, the Huskers have looked confused and disoriented with the ball on most possessions.

If NU is unable to knock down tough mid- to long-range jumpers, its chances of scoring against zones have been few and far between.

"I think the zone maybe kind of confuses us a little bit, because I don't know if we're not as aggressive against a zone as we are when we play man teams," senior guard Toney McCray said. "That's probably something we need to work on. It's more of a mindset, not about our ability. We need to have the same mindset when teams play zone on us as we do when they play man on us."

Asked if the team generally spends much time working against zone defenses in practice, both McCray and senior point guard Bo Spencer said Nebraska rarely practices against zone outside of basic scout team preparation.

Add that to the fact that opponents have given them so many different defensive looks over the past five games, and Spencer said unfamiliarity has played a big role in the Huskers' offensive issues of late.

"It's kind of tough going against a zone because we practice against man-to-man all the time," Spencer said. "We haven't really practiced too much against it. Our (scout) team gives us a great look, but other teams have different keys and different ways that they work their zone, so it's pretty different."

Head coach Doc Sadler said he generally has his team work against zone in practice only when they're preparing to play a team that runs a zone defense, but otherwise he doesn't spend much time on it.

The main reason for that is because he wants the Huskers to spend more time working on their own style of defense, which features zones unlike anything they've faced this season.

"When we are going to play against a team that plays it, we prepare that way, but not a whole lot," Sadler said. "But the other thing is our zone is so much different than anyone else's. Just like the other night (against Alcorn State), I mean they dropped a guard down in front of the low post and kept a guy behind (him). Well we hadn't practiced that. You can show it to them in practice and things like that, but until they go against it it's not really doing that much."

Nebraska was obviously limited against Alcorn State's zone defense with the absence of junior center Jorge Brian Diaz, who was out with a foot injury. With only two healthy true post players available, the Huskers struggled to get the ball inside until late in the second half, when they were able to get some things going in the high-low game.

Even with Diaz out, Sadler said he emphasized going against zone defenses in practice as much as ever coming into the game because he was hoping for NU to play about 15-20 minutes of zone itself.

For some reason, though, the Huskers still looked lost in their half-court offense against the Braves' unique zone.

"It was surprising," McCray said, "because before the game we'd been practicing against zone so much that we thought we would've come out firing and being aggressive with the ball and trying to get into it and attack the middle, but for some reason we just didn't."

Sadler said he hoped that in time his players will have seen enough zone variations that they will be prepared for whatever style opponents use against them. Having already seen so many different looks already in non-conference play, though, Sadler wasn't sure when that time would finally come.

"As much as we've played teams that have switched and changed defenses and all those things, we should be better at that than we are right now," Sadler said.

Around the rim

***As expected, Sadler said Diaz would be out for Tuesday night's non-conference season finale against Central Michigan.

Sadler said Diaz would be getting some new supportive equipment this week to help reduce the pain in his problematic feet from the foot specialist he visited at Duke University this summer.

Sadler said there were no plans for Diaz to go back out to North Carolina for another visit with the specialist, as they were told there would be no benefit from another trip out there.

***As for junior guard Dylan Talley, Sadler also ruled him out for Tuesday night's game as he continues to deal with the lingering deep thigh bruise he's re-aggravated several times this season.

Talley has not practiced the past two days, but he was hopeful he would be back in the lineup for NU's Big Ten opener against Wisconsin on Dec. 27.



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