In just its first year as home for Nebraska Cornhuskers basketball, you can undoubtedly say the Pinnacle Bank Arena provides one of the most hostile environments in the country. Encouraged by their new-found advantage, the ‘Huskers kept alive hopes for an NCAA tournament at-large bid, outdistancing No. 9 Wisconsin 77-68.
Only one point stood between the Huskers and a perfect regular season at home, as their only blemish was a 71-70 loss on January 9 against Big Ten regular season champion, Michigan. The win locks in Nebraska (19-11, 11-7 Big Ten) as the No. 4 seed for the upcoming conference tournament in Indianapolis and gives them an important first-round bye.
Since the tourney field expanded to 64 teams (now currently 68), the 1990-91 Illinois Fighting Illini are the last Big Ten team with 11 conference wins to not receive an invitation to the NCAA tourney. However, that team had the misfortune of being barred from postseason play due to recruiting violations.
An NCAA tournament berth seemed unlikely earlier this season as the Huskers lost five of their first six conference games. After suffering a 29-point thrashing in the Feb. 5 rematch against Michigan, they responded with an 8-1 finish to close the regular season and have perhaps played themselves off the bubble and into the NCAA tournament field. Their only setback was a 60-49 hiccup at Illinois.
The Huskers have just two seniors on the team, with only one receiving significant playing time (Ray Gallegos), who fittingly snatched the final rebound of the game and dribbled out the clock. Sophomores Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields poured in 26 points apiece and are probably building blocks for a team that may be considered to be near the upper half of the conference annually.
Wisconsin (25-6, 12-6) probably played themselves out of obtaining a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance unless they recover in time to snare the conference tournament. A championship scenario isn’t entirely impossible, and many conference followers hope to see a rubber match in the final against Michigan.
The Badgers were just 11-of-21 from the free throw line and committed an uncharacteristic 11 turnovers, which isn’t a high number but slightly unusual in their case. Frank Kaminsky scored a team-high 14 points, but managed to shoot just 5-of-14 from the field.