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Caleb Walker and the Huskers take on Illinois Saturday.
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
          Release: 01/06/2012
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Huskers Look for Win at Illinois on Saturday

Nebraska Cornhuskers
2011-12 Record: 8-6 (0-3 Big Ten)
Head coach: Doc Sadler
                Record at Nebraska: 97-77 (6th year)
                Record at Division I: 145-95 (8th year)
                Career Record: 265-134 (14th year)

Illinois Fighting Illini
2011-12 Record: 13-3 (2-1 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Bruce Weber
                Record at Illinois: 206-89 (9th year)
                Career Record: 309-143 (14th year)      

Huskers on TV/Radio/Internet
Television: Big Ten Network
(Ch. 610 on DirecTV; Chs. 439, 9500 on DISH; Chs. 24 and 333-SH, 1333-HD on Time Warner Cable; Chs. 80 SD, 1080-HD on Cox Cable)
                Play-by-play: Eric Collins
                Color:  Jim Jackson

Radio: IMG Husker Sports Radio Network
(including KLIN 1400 AM in Lincoln;  KFAB 1110  AM in Omaha; KRVN 880 AM in Lexington)
                Play-by-play: Kent Pavelka
                Color: Matt Davison
Internet Radio/Stats: Free on Huskers.com
Satellite Radio (Illinois Feed): XM 195, SIRIUS  93

Huskers Look for Win at Illinois
The Nebraska men's basketball team returns wraps up a two-game road trip this Saturday, Jan. 7, as the Huskers travel to Illinois. Tip off for the tilt between the Huskers and Fighting Illini at Assembly Hall is set for 12:01 p.m. (central).

Saturday's game will be televised nationally on the Big Ten Network with Eric Collins and Jim Jackson on the call. The game will also be available on BTN.com and the BTN2Go App on select mobile devices.

The Nebraska-Illinois game will also be carried across Nebraska on the 30-station IMG Husker Sports Radio Network with Kent Pavelka and Matt Davison calling all of the action. The game can also be heard on the Internet at Huskers.com and season audio packages are also available for purchase on the Huskers' App for your iPhone or iPod Touch.

The Huskers (8-6, 0-3 Big Ten) wrapped up a stretch of facing three ranked teams with a 71-40 loss at No. 6 Ohio State on Tuesday night. The Huskers shot just 30.8 percent from the floor on the night and were out-rebounded 44-21 by the Buckeyes, as Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger totaled 19 points and 12 rebounds. The stretch marked just the fourth time in the last eight seasons that a team has begun Big Ten play with three straight games against ranked opponents.

For the Huskers, one bright spot was the performance of senior Brandon Richardson, who totaled 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting and had a career-high seven steals against the Buckeyes. Richardson's effort was one off of Nebraska's single-game steals record and the most by any player in the Big Ten this season. The 6-foot senior helped Nebraska record a season-high 13 steals against Ohio State - matching the most by a Husker team in 95 games dating back to the 2008-09 season. Nebraska, which has been without two of its top four scorers for the past five games because of injuries, will need to continue to generate pressure with its defense to overcome its size disadvantage without starting center Jorge Brian Diaz.

The Huskers will need a strong performance on Saturday against an Illinois squad which is 13-3 on the season and coming off a 57-56 win at Northwestern on Wednesday night. The Fighting Illini, who are 2-1 in Big Ten action, feature one of the Big Ten's best big men in Meyers Leonard, who averages 13.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Leonard is one of three Illinois players who average in double figures.

Husker Tip Off
•-With Jorge Brian Diaz and Dylan Talley sidelined by injuries, Nebraska has struggled at times offensively. The Huskers are averaging nearly 14 points per game less without the two players and is shooting just 37 percent from the field, much lower than the 45 percent through their first nine games.

Games

PPG

FG Pct.

RPG

Reb, Diff.

First 9 games

67.0

.451

35.1

+4.2

Last 5 games

53.4

.372

27.4

-5.0

  • -Nebraska totaled a season-high 13 steals against Ohio State, the fifth-highest total in Doc Sadler's six seasons. In fact, the last time Nebraska had more than 13 steals in a conference game was 15 against Oklahoma State on Feb. 7, 2001.

No.

Opponent

Date

16

San Jose State

11/16/08

15

North Texas

11/29/06

14

Alabama A&M

12/17/06

14

North Carolina Central

12/22/07

13

at Ohio State

1/3/12

13

at Texas Tech

1/31/09

13

Alcorn State

12/8/10

Scouting Illinois
Under Bruce Weber, Illinois comes into Saturday's game with an 13-3 mark following Tuesday's 57-56 win at Northwestern Wednesday night. In that game, Meyers Leonard had 12 points, eight rebounds and blocked Drew Crawford's game-winning attempt in the final seconds to preserve the road win.

The Fighting Illini have reached the NCAA Tournament six times in Weber's eight years at the school, including a national runner-up appearance in 2004-05. Illinois returned one starter from a team that went 20-14 and reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, but got off two a great start. Illinois won its first 10 games, including wins over Gonzaga and at Maryland, and climbed to as high as 19th in the national polls before suffering a loss to nationally ranked UNLV on Dec. 10. Illinois' other non-conference loss was a four-point setback in St. Louis to unbeaten Missouri. The Fighting Illini split their first two games, winning in double overtime over Minnesota before losing at Purdue on Saturday before Wednesday's win. 

Offensively, the Illini are averaging 68.8 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the floor as a team and grabbing 5.1 more rebounds than their opponents. Junior guard D.J. Richardson leads Illinois with 13.9 points per game, including a team-best 41 3-pointers on 41 percent shooting.  Leonard compliments the four-guard offensive in the middle, as he chips in 13.3 points per game and is shooting 60 percent from the field to rank fourth in the Big Ten in that category. Brandon Paul is the third Illinois player who averages double figures, as the 6-foot-4 junior guard averages 12.2 points and has a team-best 53 assists.

Illinois may be without senior guard Sam Maniscalco on Saturday, as he did not play in Wednesday's game because of an ankle injury. Maniscalo, who played at Bradley before transferring for his senior year, averages 9.9 points per game in 13 starts and is second on the team with 43 assists.

Series History
Illinois leads the all-time series, 7-2, as Saturday's meeting will be the first between the two teams since the 1990 San Juan Shootout. The Huskers are winless in five prior trips to Champaign-Urbana, most recently a 67-63 setback on Dec. 11, 1976. Nebraska's 100-73 win in the 1990 San Juan Shootout semifinals was the Huskers' first since a 30-25 win in 1921. In that game, Carl Hayes scored a career-high 24 points to pace six Huskers in double figures, as Nebraska shot 58 percent from the floor and out-rebounded the Illini, 52-40.

Spencer Makes the Point for the Huskers
While Nebraska returned four starters from a team that won 19 games last season, the loss of point guard Lance Jeter was a significant one. An All-Big 12 performer, Jeter led the Huskers in both scoring and assists in 2010-11.

Luckily for the Huskers, they already had a veteran point guard on the roster, as senior Bo Spencer sat out last season after transferring from LSU. He has been a solid performer during the first half of the season, averaging 14.7 points, 3.9 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game, while shooting 87.5 percent from the foul line. Spencer has been an iron man for the Huskers, averaging 34.0 minutes per game which is the highest total by a Husker since Cookie Belcher in 2000-01.

Spencer has reached double figures a team-high 11 times, including four 20-point performances. He was one of only two Big Ten players - along with Penn State's Tim Frazier - averaging over 15 points and four assists per game entering this week's action before he was held to 10 points and one assist in the loss at No. 6 Ohio State on Tuesday.

He had his best offensive game of the year at Creighton on Dec. 4, pouring in 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting and adding five rebounds in the highest scoring effort by a Husker since 2007-08.

Spencer led Nebraska to a road win at TCU on Dec. 10, hitting 7-of-12 shots, including four 3-pointers, in NU's 69-57 victory. At USC on Nov. 14, he had 22 points, including the tying basket in overtime and the go-ahead bucket in double overtime, and also tied a personal best with seven rebounds. Against Rhode Island on Nov. 20, he had a then-season high 23 points while shooting 8-of-13 from the floor, four assists and three steals. Against South Dakota State on Nov. 26, Spencer had a then-career-high eight assists along with 18 points and six rebounds as he out-played Nate Wolters.  He enjoyed a strong night against Central Michigan on Dec. 20, when he dished out a career-high nine assists and tied for team-high honors with 15 points. Spencer came off the bench in last Saturday's loss to No. 16 Michigan State, leading the Huskers with 15 points before returning to the starting lineup against OSU.

Before coming to Nebraska, he started two seasons for the LSU Tigers, averaging 14.5 points, 2.7 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game in 2009-10. Spencer showed the ability to get to the basket, putting up 11 games of at least 20 points, including a season-high 28-point effort against Western Kentucky and back-to-back 25-point contests against Kentucky and Tennessee.

In his LSU career, he reached double figures in 45 of 93 career contests, including 21 times as a junior. Spencer was the starting point guard on LSU's Southeastern Conference championship squad in 2008-09, as the Tigers reached the second round before falling to eventual champion North Carolina.

McCray Enjoyed Starting Role
Fifth-year senior Toney McCray has overcome a slow start to play some of the best basketball of his career in 2011-12. The 6-foot-6 senior was hampered by surgery on his feet (summer) and a toe injury in October, but has enjoyed a breakout senior year, setting career bests in scoring (10.4 ppg), rebounding (4.6 rpg) and field goal percentage (51.4 pct.), while also shooting 38 percent from 3-point range.

McCray, who averaged just 3.8 points per game in Nebraska's first four games, is averaging 13.0 points since then and has been in double figures in eight of the last 10 games.

He has really excelled since he moved into the starting lineup after an injury to Jorge Brian Diaz, leading the Huskers in scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounding (7.0) over the last five games. He has been in double figures in each of the last five contests, the longest stretch of his career. Prior to this season, his longest stretch of games in double figures was four games (Feb. 26-March 9, 2011). The stretch began with a 20-point, seven-rebound effort against Alcorn State on Dec. 17, and had 16 points and nine rebounds against No. 11 Wisconsin on Dec. 27. McCray led NU with 13 points and five rebounds in Tuesday's loss to Ohio State - the fourth straight game he has tied or shared for the team lead in rebounds.

Earlier this season, McCray had three straight games where he tied or set season highs, including 15 points and five rebounds at No. 22 Creighton on Dec. 4. He also had 12 points in Nebraska's games against South Dakota and Wake Forest and 16 points against No. 16 Michigan State last Saturday.

McCray may have made his biggest contributions from the foul line in the double overtime win at USC on Nov. 14. A career 61 percent shooter from the line entering his senior year, McCray hit four clutch free throws at USC - two in the final minute of regulation and a pair with 2.8 seconds remaining in overtime - for his only points of the night in NU's 65-61 double overtime win. McCray is up to a career-best 77 percent this season from the line.

Huskers Battling Through Injuries
If the Huskers had one New Year's resolution, it would be for improved health as the season progresses forward. Injuries have depleted the Husker frontcourt, where Andre Almeida (5.3 ppg on 56 percent shooting; 3.3 rpg; 1.3 bpg in 2010-11) has not played this season because of a knee injury, while starting center Jorge Brian Diaz (10.9 ppg; 4.9 rpg, 2.6 bpg) has missed Nebraska's last five games because of a foot injury. In addition, junior guard Dylan Talley (9.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg) has not played in NU's last five games because of a thigh injury.

While Almeida has not played this season, the injuries to Diaz and Talley have shifted around Nebraska's rotation. Prior to the injuries, Nebraska's bench was averaging 21 points per game in its first nine contests, but has averaged just 6.6 in the last five contests.

The Huskers did get some good news on the health front, as freshman Corey Hilliard Jr. returned to action on Dec. 27, after missing Nebraska's last seven games. He has averaged 7.3 minutes per game in Big Ten action, including a career-high 10 minutes in Nebraska's loss to No. 16 Michigan State on Dec. 31.

Richardson is Huskers' Glue Guy
While senior Brandon Richardson doesn't lead the Huskers in any offensive category, his versatility is his greatest asset. The fifth-year senior averages 6.7 points, 3.0 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game, while also leading the Huskers in steals (2.0 per game) where he ranks third in the conference in that category.

Richardson is tied for second among active Big Ten players in career steals and is on pace to become the first Husker since Cookie Belcher in 2000-01 to average more than two steals per game. Belcher, who holds three of the top four totals in school history, still ranks fourth in NCAA history with 353.

Richardson comes off one of the best games of his career, totaling 11 points and a career-high seven steals in Tuesday's loss at Ohio State. The seven steals are the highest total by any Big Ten player in 2011-12.

Richardson has taken more of a role of a distributor in recent weeks, averaging 3.4 assists per game while posting a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio in the Huskers' last seven games.

The 6-foot senior came up big in his return home to Los Angeles on Nov. 14, totaling 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range in the Huskers' overtime win at USC. He matched his career best with four 3-pointers and dished out a pair of assists, including the game-tying basket in double overtime.  Against Rhode Island on Nov. 20, he keyed a Husker defense which held Jamal Wilson to 14 points after averaging 31 points in the Rams first two games and set then-career highs in both assists (eight) and steals (four). Richardson had his best offensive game of the year in the non-conference finale against Central Michigan on Dec. 20, finishing with a season-high 15 points and three assists.

Throughout his career, Richardson has been clutch from the free throw line, as he ranks third in school history with an 83.4 career percentage from the charity stripe and is one of only four players in program history to shoot over 80 percent for a career.  This year, he is hitting a career-best 89.5 percent from the foul line.

Last year, he was second in Big 12 action in league play, hitting 87.8 of his free throws, including a stretch of 25 consecutive made free throws.  Throughout his career, he has been his best in late-game situations, going 73-of-78 from the foul line in the final five minutes of games, a remarkable 93.6 percent.

Taking Advantage at the Stripe
One area where the Huskers have been proficient is at the free throw line, where Nebraska's 77.2 percent rate leads the Big Ten and is fifth nationally entering this weekend's action.

It is on track to be one of the best seasons in school history, as only two Husker teams have shot over 75 percent since 1948, led by the 1967-68 team which was third nationally when they hit a school-record 76.5 percent from the line.  Prior to this season, NU's best season under Doc Sadler was 71.3 percent during the 2006-07 campaign.

Here is some quick facts on Nebraska's prowess from the line.

  • Nebraska has shot 75 percent or better from the line in 10 of the last 12 contests, hitting an impressive 79.1 percent from the line in that stretch.
  • Nebraska's 77.2 free throw percentage is on pace to be one of the top-10 free throw percentages in Big Ten Conference history (the 2005-06 MSU team is 10th at 76.9 percent).
  • Nebraska has ranked in the top-10 nationally in free throw percentage two times in school history (1993-94 and 1967-68).
  • Four Huskers are shooting over 80 percent from the line this season, Brandon Richardson (88.9 percent), Bo Spencer (87.5 percent) Dylan Talley (82.4 percent) and Brandon Ubel (80.6 percent).
  • Spencer and Richardson are both on pace to be Nebraska's best free throw shooters since Cary Cochran led the nation at 92.2 percent in 2001-02.
  • The Huskers have been at their best in the clutch, hitting 82 percent (51-of-62) from the line in the last five minutes of games this season.

One thing Sadler has stressed is getting to the free throw line more often, as Nebraska has averaged 18.5 attempts in its eight wins, but just 12.7 attempts in its five losses.

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