LINCOLN, Neb. - Things don't look like they're going to get better for the Cats anytime soon.
With JerShon Cobb officially out for the season, Northwestern couldn't overcome a difficult Nebraska squad in a hostile environment and ultimately fell 54-47.
Here, then, from Lincoln, are WildcatReport's rapid reactions:
Did you see that? Tre Demps's three-pointer at the end of the half. As the first half was coming to a close, Nebraska was poised to build a comfortable lead. With Drew Crawford struggling, the Cornhuskers threatened to pull away. With 10 seconds on the clock, lightning-quick Benny Parker glided to the basket and hit a layup that put his team up 26-19. With no time to waste, Demps took the inbounds pass, flew down the court, pulled up at the top of the key and drilled a three-pointer with three seconds remaining. The four-point hole going into halftime was much more manageable.
Offensive player of the game: Alex Olah. The big guy has come on extremely strong late in the season and should be garnering some attention for the conference's most improved player, even though he isn't the frontrunner. He was the only Northwestern player that Chris Collins specifically lauded in his press conference, and with good reason: Olah finished with 20 points. His offense was as versatile as we've seen it since he came to NU. When he posted up, he showed a smooth shoulder fake and hook shot move. When he stepped outside, he drilled a trio of three-pointers to slow down Nebraska's momentum. During this recent six-game losing streak, he's been by far the biggest positive.
Defensive player of the game: Olah. The Romanian 7-footer was a safety net when defenders were beaten on drives, as he has been for much of the season. He blocked four shots on the day, and most of them came when he rejected drivers other than the man that he was defending. He also hit the boards hard and finished with seven. But maybe the most impressive part of his game is how he hung with Walter Pitchford. Pitchford is basically a stretch-four playing the five spot, so Olah was forced to go outside of his comfort zone to guard him on the wing. For the most part, he moved his feet and kept up with the fleet-footed Pitchford.
Turning point: Shavon Shields' late jam. When Nebraska hit a big bucket or got a big stop, the arena exploded, a timeout was called, and it looked like the Huskers would pull away for good. And each time, Northwestern would come running back and cut the deficit to four or five. So the safest pick for this category is the final scoring play of the game. The Wildcats had under 30 seconds to come back and needed a quick shot to make it a one-possession game. Demps missed a three, Pitchford got the rebound and the Huskers quickly tossed it down the court to Shields, who sealed the victory with a two-handed flush.
Key stat: Five 3-pointers in the last two games for Olah. Before this last pair of games, the big man hadn't hit multiple threes in a game all season, and he'd only done it once in his career. Then he went out and hit two against Indiana and three against Nebraska. If he can become consistent from outside, it's just one more element of his game that makes him very tough to stop.
Xs and Os: For Nebraska, everything ran through a ball screen at the top of the key. Whoever had the ball (usually Terran Petteway) would go right off the ball screen, but unlike you'd expect, he rarely even looked for the screener to roll to the basket. Instead, he'd either draw a defender from the wing or the corner off his man and create a wide open jump shot, or he'd end up being guarded by someone on Northwestern who would give him a very favorable matchup. In that case, he would drive to the basket and usually draw a foul.
Atmosphere: There's a reason Nebraska arguably has the biggest home-court advantage in the conference. These fans have been aching for a competitive basketball team, and now that they've got it, brand new Pinnacle Bank Arena is regularly being filled past capacity. In fact, the Huskers broke their basketball attendance record against Northwestern by seating 15,978 people, which is over 800 more than the listed capacity. The beautiful new facility and raucous, supportive fans signals a new era in Nebraska basketball. The Huskers are for real.