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February 6, 2010Redshirt freshman Jorge Brian Diaz had just one Big 12 Conference game of experience under his belt when he was handed the toughest challenges of his career.
When then-No. 3 Kansas came to Lincoln back on Jan. 13, Diaz was responsible for the bulk of the duties of going head-to-head with KU senior centerCole Aldrich, who is widely regarded as one of the best big men in all of college basketball.
It was undoubtedly a daunting task, but when all was said and done, Diaz had held his own as well as anyone could have expected.
Along with holding Aldrich to just six points on 1-of-4 shooting from the field (he's currently averaging 13.6 points per game in Big 12 play), the 6-11 Puerto Rico native shot 7-of-10 from the floor and finished with 15 points.
With some substantial success against one of the nation's best, Diaz comes into tonight's 5 p.m. showdown with the now top-ranked Jayhawks (21-1 overall, 7-0 Big 12) in Lawrence, Kan., with far more confidence than the first time around.
"I know more of what to expect this time," Diaz said. "But it will still be hard. He's a very, very good player, and I will have to play my best to keep up with him."
While Diaz was able to put some points on the board against Aldrich, he still came up well short in other areas like rebounding. Not only did Aldrich out-rebound Diaz 9-1, he also ended the day with three blocks while playing just 22 minutes.
Tonight, NU head coach Doc Sadler said he wanted to see better defensive play and more aggressiveness on the glass from Diaz to go along with his offensive production.
"I think we got him the basketball more (in the first game), probably," Sadler said. "He had some angles, and he was able to score some points. Defensively and rebounding, I didn't feel like he played that well. He was able to score some points, and that's definitely an area that the team needs his help in.
"But believe me, I didn't come away from that game thinking he dominated Cole Aldrich. We got him the ball, and he finished plays. I'm sure it helped his confidence not only against (Aldrich), but also even for whomever we played after."
Another factor this time around will be how Diaz responds to playing in Allen Fieldhouse, arguably one of the most hostile and intimidating venues in the country. Like the rest of the Huskers' numerous first-year players, tonight will be completely different from any other atmosphere Diaz will have likely ever played in.
"I think every place they go is going to be a new experience for them," Sadler said. "That place is one of the greatest places in college basketball to play. I can't imagine guys not being excited to play there. It's a great atmosphere."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Though it may seem hard to believe, Nebraska currently leads Kansas in one major statistic this season, which very well could play as big of a role as any in helping the Huskers pull off an upset. Allowing just 66.9 points per game, NU leads the Big 12 in scoring defense, while the Jayhawks rank second with 68.7 ppg. However, KU also leads the conference and ranks fourth nationally in scoring offense with 84.1 ppg. Something has to give tonight, and if the Huskers are going to have any chance at shocking the world with a win, they better hope it's not them.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE HUSKERS:
Sophomore guard Brandon Richardson scored just six points in Tuesday's loss to Kansas State, but he still managed to haul in a team-high six rebounds and add three assists off the bench. In their first meeting with Kansas, Richardson scored a career-high 18 points, and he's led the Huskers in scoring the past 13 games, reaching double figures 10 times in that stretch.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE JAYHAWKS:
Preseason All-Americans Aldrich and senior guard Sherron Collins might get all the attention when people talk about Kansas, but sophomore forward Marcus Morris has led the way so far, especially since the start of conference play. Morris leads KU with 17.4 ppg in its seven Big 12 games, marking a huge jump from the 10.5 ppg he averaged in non-conference action.