Behind a career-high 16 points from Caleb Walker, the Nebraska basketball team opened the 2011-12 season with a 65-48 victory over South Dakota Friday night at the Devaney Center.
Walker, a senior guard from Hutchinson, Kan., was a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor, including a trio of 3-pointers, to pace four Huskers in double figures. Walker topped his previous high of 13 set three times last season and also had seven rebounds in 24 minutes of action. Walker got the Huskers off to a quick start, scoring the first seven points for Nebraska, which led wire to wire in posting its 11th consecutive season opening win.
Three other Huskers joined Walker in double figures, including Jorge Brian Diaz, who had 11 points and a career-high five blocked shots while Brandon Richardson and Dylan Talley had 10 points apiece. Talley, a junior college transfer from Camden, N.J., nearly recorded a double-double in his debut, as he snared nine rebounds and had five assists in 20 minutes off the bench.
Diaz and Toney McCray keyed a decisive run for the Huskers, as Nebraska used an 11-2 spurt to turn a four-point lead into a 13-point bulge. Diaz, the 6-foot-11 center, got the run started with a dunk before hitting a short jumper on NU's next position. McCray, who came off the bench to score eight points and grab six rebounds, than added a pair of baskets to key the run of eight unanswered Husker points. Moments later, Talley stretched the lead to 31-18 with a three-pointer, as the Huskers eventually took a 12-pint lead into the half.
South Dakota, which returned four starters from a team that won 18 games last year, made a run in the opening minutes of the second half to pull within 31-22, but Nebraska responded with six straight points, capped by Brandon Richardson's 4-point play to make it 37-22 with 16:13 left. From there, Nebraska used its long range shooting to keep the Coyotes at bay, hitting 5-of-9 from 3-point range in the final 20 minutes, and never trailed by less than 10 points.
The Huskers held a South Dakota team that averaged 79 points per game last year to 48 points on 31 percent shooting. Louie Krogman led USD with 16 points.
Nebraska returns to action Monday night, as the Huskers travel to USC. Tipoff is set for 9:30 p.m. (central) and the game will be carried on the Husker Sports Network and also televised on Prime Ticket.
*-Nebraska has now won 11 straight season openers, while Doc Sadler is now 8-0 as a Division I head coach in openers (2-0 at UTEP; 6-0 at Nebraska)
*-Caleb Walker had a career-high 16 points, topping his previous high of 13 set three times last season. Walker also had a career-best three 3-pointers in the win.
*-With the win, Doc Sadler moved into sole possession of fourth place on Nebraska's career wins list with 90. He moved past Barry Collier, who had 89 wins in six seasons. Sadler is now 90-71 at Nebraska
*-Jorge Brian Diaz had a career-high five blocked shots tonight, the 26th time in his career he has had multiple blocked shots in a game. His previous best was four against Kansas State on Feb. 23, 2011.
*-With five blocked shots tonight, Diaz upped his career total to 84, moving into ninth place on NU's career list. Diaz passed Cookie Belcher, who had 83 blocks between 1997 and 2000
*-Nebraska has now won its last 25 home non-conference games, which ranks fourth in school history. The Huskers are now 49-1 at home in non-conference games over the last six seasons.
Nebraska Coach Doc Sadler
"Obviously the first game you are playing against a team that plays 40 minutes of zone and that's not something that we play much of. I thought as the game went along, we did attack it a little bit better. The turnovers that we had; there were four or five of them that I didn't mind because we were trying to feed the post. With anything, though, I thought our three-point shooting was a little bit better than it was the other night, but our free throw shooting and offensive rebounding on the other team and turnovers are obviously things that over these next eight or nine ball games we've got to get better at. We're going to have some tough games and they are all going to be tough. We have to get the turnovers down to 10 or 12 and we can't give up 10 offensive rebounds like we did tonight."
On what he saw from Bo Spencer
"I don't really worry about Bo shooting the basketball because he has proven in practice that he can shoot. Again, it's going to take Bo some time because he has not played in a year. The level of play, no matter what it is, is going to be different for you. The speed is going to be different for you. You are playing against things you don't see in practice. But for him to go out there and play 30 minutes and not have any turnovers, I thought that was pretty good. Obviously I'm disappointed more than anything with his defensive rebounding. He's got to rebound better."
On Caleb Walker's performance
"Caleb shot the ball well, but he got open shots. He's supposed to make those. I thought that after the second or third minute of the game, I thought what got Caleb off to a good start was that he got a couple of offensive rebounds and that's what he's got to do. I think defensively Caleb is playing as well as anyone."
On what he saw from Dylan Talley
"Nothing bothers Dylan. He could be playing in downtown New York City or at Madison Square Garden and he doesn't know the difference. He's just going to go out there and play. He has some good qualities but at the same time he had some turnovers. I would say right now that on this team, there is nobody more ready to take a big shot because it's not going to affect him one way or the other. He's just going to have to keep getting better defensively."
Senior guard Caleb Walker
On if getting offensive rebounds early got him going tonight
"Yeah it was, definitely. I needed to help my team out by going to the boards as hard as I can every possession. I went and got a couple rebounds. That's always a plus when you can get your team a rebound to get another possession.
On how the game felt
"It felt good. We've had about 23-24 practices now, so it definitely feels good to get back into the action of the game flow. It's really good to know that it's here now and it's time to play."
South Dakota State Head Coach Dave Boots:
On Impressions of South Dakota after tonight's game:
"That we played with them. We played hard and stayed competitive that way. Our offense gave them some points early in that game, and we missed some defensive rebounds that we had a shot at. That got us down. I thought our kids played physically against a really physical, good basketball team with inside kids and their perimeter guys are really physical. They are going to get a lot of open looks. We probably had some better open looks early. I thought we played better offensively in the second half plus we took away some of the turnovers. It was a competitive game. We don't like getting beat by the number of points that we did, but there are some things that are better than a year ago. We had few chances to let our defense win the game. Tonight we played well enough defensively to compete but didn't get it done on the offense. Our execution wasn't good all the way through and I didn't think we forced a lot. Our kids are so unselfish and it was hard to get an open look."
On the impression the new players made for South Dakota:
"Well, they're feeling their way through it. They didn't look like they were intimidated. They made some mistakes and had some turnovers we can clean up and slow down a little bit. I thought our returning guys did a good job playing in there. Our balance was good with our guys and the good thing about playing a team like this is that you know your weaknesses right away. We aren't going to take nine or ten games to figure out we aren't good at something. We found out right away that we need to execute the whole way through and make plays. We did not have a great offensive night. We beat ourselves."
On looking forward and if some of that will be corrected:
"I would hope so. We will be gaining in our confidence level and at the beginning of the year, you won't be playing your best basketball, nor would you want to. We need to play a lot better than we did tonight and will make sure that this team keeps working and improving. As the year goes on, we will be playing a lot of road games into December and we will have to go in there and play well enough defensively to be in the game. Tonight we didn't play well enough offensively to win the game. We have to have both. You can't have one without the other. We have to get our offense up a bit and keep improving on defense. We will do a better job."