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December 6, 2009For the seven new additions to Nebraska's roster this season, today will be their first taste of what exactly the Creighton rivalry game is all about.
It might not carry much implication outside of state lines, but for the fans bases separated by only 50 miles, it's a game that earns bragging rights for the rest of the year.
The Huskers' seniors have learned through experience what the series is like both on and off the court, and they've won two of the past three meetings, including last year's 54-52 buzzer-beater victory.
As for NU's newcomers, today's 4 p.m. tip-off at the Qwest Center in Omaha will be their introduction into one of the better yet relatively overlooked rivalries in college basketball.
"I don't (know much about the rivalry)," freshman guard Ray Gallegos said. "I've heard stories though."
One player who does know a thing or two about the Nebraska-Creighton rivalry is senior guard Ryan Anderson. With a win this afternoon, Anderson and fellow seniors Sek Henry and Ben Nelson will have ended their Husker careers with a 3-1 record against the Bluejays.
Anderson tried to keep today's game in perspective and say it was just the next game on Nebraska's schedule, but he admitted to buying in to the hype surrounding the rivalry during his time in Lincoln.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't mean anything to me," Anderson said. "Like I said, over time you learn what that (game) means to people in Nebraska, period. It kind of grows on you. I want to win, of course. But a winning record against them, it doesn't really matter. It's just another game. If we win, so be it. If we lose, so be it."
In last season's dramatic win over the Bluejays at the Devaney Center, it was the Huskers' seniors who stepped up and carried the team to a come-from-behind victory.
Not only did senior Steve Harley find senior Ade Dagunduro under the basket for the game-winning lay-up with 2.7 seconds remaining, senior Paul Velander scored all 11 of his points in the second half to spark a 13-point comeback at halftime.
Seeing the way NU's seniors stepped up last season, players like Anderson and Henry know it will depend on them to carry their young teammates to another win in another hostile road environment.
"You can only explain so much (about playing Creighton)," Anderson said. "I mean, experience is an all-time teacher. They'll learn. Those young guys will learn."
While the rivalry obviously carries a lot of meaning for both teams and fan bases, what it really comes down to is getting an important non-conference victory. Bragging rights will certainly be on the line this afternoon, but for the players, leaving with a victory is the only goal.
"It does (mean a lot), but just because I love winning," Henry said. "I've never beat them at their place before, so that'd be great to be able to do that. Just like any team I've never beaten, I want to be able to say I've beaten them by the time I leave here.
"I've never really looked at Creighton as true rival. I look at teams in the Big 12 more as rivals. The Creighton game is big game for us because it shows what we need to work on. They're a real good team and do a lot of stuff that we're going to see down the road in the Big 12. We're going to have to come in ready to play, and that's what we're going to do."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
On Wednesday, Nebraska let Texas Pan-American stay in the game for far too long because the Broncs were able to hit five 3-pointers in the first half alone. Creighton freshman Ethan Wragge is the Bluejays' most dangerous threat from beyond the arc, as he comes into today's game shooting 53.1 percent (17-of-32) from 3-point range. Keep an eye on how well Nebraska contains Wragge and the rest of CU's shooters on the perimeter.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE HUSKERS
Anderson stepped up big like a senior leader should against UTPA, finishing with a game-high 21 points and adding four steals. His steal total on the night also moved him into Nebraska's top-10 in career steals, as he now ranks ninth with 130 and has 17 already on the season.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE BLUEJAYS
The Huskers will finally get a good challenge in the post when they take on Creighton's senior center Kenny Lawson Jr.. At 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, Lawson is not only a physical presence inside, he's also the Bluejays' leading scorer, averaging 11.3 points along with 6.2 rebounds per game. He also has a team-high eight blocked shots.