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March 3, 2012

Huskers close regular season with loss to Gophers

Any hopes of picking up some sort of momentum going into next week's Big Ten Conference Tournament came to a frustrating end for Nebraska on Saturday, as the Huskers closed out the regular season with an 81-69 loss to Minnesota.

After keeping the game within reach through the first half, Nebraska (12-17 overall, 4-14 Big Ten) simply couldn't keep up with the Gophers down the stretch and trailed by as many as 17 points before settling for a 12-point defeat.

The loss was the Huskers' fourth in a row and eight in their final nine games. On the other end, the win snapped a six-game losing streak for Minnesota (18-13, 6-12).

"Bottom line is give Minnesota credit," head coach Doc Sadler said during his post-game radio shot on the Husker Sports Network. "They played hard for 40 minutes, and again, offensively they were a much better team than us today."

The day started out in ominous fashion for Nebraska, as the Huskers picked up three team fouls in the first minute of the game, including two on senior point guard Bo Spencer in the first 47 seconds.

Things settled down a bit for the next 10 minutes, though, and NU actually held a 20-14 lead with 10:41 left in the half after a jumper by senior guard Toney McCray capped off a 7-0 run.

Then, just as opponents have been doing all season, Minnesota took advantage of yet another Nebraska scoring drought. While the Huskers went a full six minutes without scoring a point, the Gophers went on a 20-2 run with the help of four 3-pointers to take a 34-22 lead with 3:42 to go.

Nebraska was able to chip away at the deficit and cut it down to 36-30 after a 3 by junior guard Dylan Talley with 1:16 left in the half.

The first half ended with the momentum shifting right back over to the Gophers, however. Senior guard Brandon Richardson was called for a foul with just one second remaining to send UM's Chip Armelin to the line for two free throws that made it 38-30 going into halftime.

Talley led Nebraska by scoring 11 of his 16 points in the first half, but Minnesota controlled the bulk of the half by hitting 7-of-14 3-pointers.

The second half started out a little better for the Huskers, as they were eventually able to pull within 45-43 after a pair of free throws by Richardson that capped off a 10-1 run. But as quickly as NU came back to make it a one-possession game, Minnesota broke it right back open with a 9-0 run of its own.

With 12:20 left to play, Armelin drained his fourth 3-pointer of the night to put the Gophers back up 54-43.

"We cut it back to maybe two points, and then they went on a 9-0 run," Sadler said. "We just got away. We came down and shot too many quick shots, quit going inside and what we needed to do."

Minnesota would go on to lead by as many as 17 points while Nebraska's offensive woes continued. After Spencer hit a hit a jumper with 16:26 left, the Huskers went nearly the next nine minutes without making another field goal and scored just six points on free throws during the span.

The final seven minutes were more of an offensive showcase for the Gophers than a competitive game, as UM got to the rim time and again with a flurry of dunks and lay-ups down the stretch.

The Huskers showed one last bit of fight when Spencer knocked down consecutive 3-pointers to cut the deficit down to 11 with roughly four minutes left, but it was simply too little, too late.

Spencer ended up with a game-high 23 points, though the majority came late in the second half with the game well out of reach. Armelin led Minnesota with 20 points off the bench on 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc, while five different Gophers scored in double figures in the win.

With the loss, Nebraska will have to wait for the result of Penn State's game against Michigan on Sunday to see whether it will be the No. 11 or 12 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, which begins on Thursday in Indianapolis.

If Penn State wins, NU will be the 12 seed, and of course would be the 11 seed with a Nittany Lions loss.

"This is the third part of the season, and the most important part I guess at this point," Sadler said. "But the bottom line is we've got to do a nice job Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and prepare for probably (No. 6-seed) Purdue, as it's looking like that's who we're probably going to play, unless some things have happened that I don't know about today.

"But the bottom line is it's not going to be easy. Athletics are supposed to teach you things that aren't easy. As I told the team after the game, if we think it's going to be easy, we might as well not go. So let's buckle our belt up and hold our chin up and go fight and compete. That's what it's supposed to be about, and see what happens."



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