UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State and Nebraska ¡ª schools rich with football tradition ¡ª will meet Saturday on the hardwood for the second time this season with each hovering at or near the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
When they met on Jan. 19 at University Park, each was winless in the conference and smarting from five-game losing streaks.
The Nittany Lions were gracious hosts and gifted the Huskers a 68-64 victory after three Lions combined to go 1 of 5 from the foul line in the game¡¯s last 24 seconds.
But Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said he isn¡¯t using that game to inspire his players to avenge the loss. His message is more simplistic.
¡°I don¡¯t know what motivation you can get out of it,¡± Chambers said with a laugh. ¡°We let one slip away. It was handed to us and we didn¡¯t get it done.¡±
¡°The motivation has to be we have to compete and get better. We haven¡¯t won on the road and we haven¡¯t won in the Big Ten. Nobody expects us to win, so just go out and have some fun ¡¡±
The game will be televised Saturday at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.
The Huskers (11-10, 2-8 Big Ten) have what the Nittany Lions want. Aside from two conference wins, they also have three players scoring in double figures.
Ray Gallegos, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, is exactly the type of small, quick guard that has given Penn State fits all season.
¡°Gallegos on any given night can string four or five threes together,¡± said Chambers. ¡°He¡¯s a very good shooter ¡ he scores in bunches and it¡¯s scary ¡¡±
Gallegos, who averages 13.3 points per game, dropped an efficient 30 points against then-No. 23 Minnesota last week on 12 of 17 from the field and 6 of 9 from three.
But the Huskers have shown they can win even with a sub-par night from a main weapon.
Of course there is freshman Shavon Shields, who lit up the Nittany Lions for 29 points on 10 of 11 shooting from the field in the first meeting. He hasn¡¯t come close to those numbers since, but Chambers said Shields is still a threat because teams know he¡¯s capable.
But when the Huskers foiled Northwestern ¡ª a team with wins against Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue ¡ª Gallegos had just 11 points and Shields just six.
However, Dylan Talley (13 per game), a 6-foot-5 senior guard, erupted for 20 points and eight rebounds. Brandon Ubel (11.8 per game) also contributed 12 points and 12 rebounds, but perhaps most important in the victory was the Huskers¡¯ stingy defense.
Nebraska ranks second in the conference in defending the 3-point line and held the Wildcats to just 20 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The Huskers are also in the middle of the pack in both field goal and scoring defense.
Conversely, Penn State (8-14, 0-10 Big Ten) is still looking for a third player to add to D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall offensively and still trying to sure up a defense that is near the bottom in a few key defensive categories.
In 10 conference games, Penn State has yet to have three players reach double figures, leaving Newbill and Marshall to shoulder much of the offensive burden.
When Marshall struggled against Purdue, hitting just 2-of-14 from the field, the Lions were unable to find ways to recoup his usual production and lost 58-49.
Ross Travis, who has struggled from the perimeter all season, shot an efficient 4 for 8 from the field against the Boilermakers by getting attempts closer to the basket. The sophomore¡¯s eight points still didn¡¯t breach double figures, but the offensive adjustment made him more effective.
Newbill similarly adapted his game.
Teams have begun to slide underneath Penn State¡¯s heavy dose of ball screens on offense, daring Newbill to beat them from the perimeter.
Against the Boilers, the sophomore guard from Philadelphia did just that. Newbill utilized the offensive space given to him from 15 feet away from the basket, scoring baskets in the mid-range instead of crashing headlong into the paint.
¡°I just said to him ¡®take what the defense gives you,¡¯¡± Chambers said. ¡°He is a very good mid-range jump shooter ¡ he needs to hit that (shot) just to put teams on their heels a little bit.¡±
Much has been made of Penn State¡¯s offensive struggles this season. It seems a five to eight minute drought occurs at least once a game. However, against the Huskers it¡¯s not likely to be offense that secures victory. It will have to be defense.
Nebraska also struggles to score, but their stellar defense means points will likely be at a premium.
If that¡¯s the case Penn State will have to rely on its defense to hold serve while the offense grinds it out, something that hasn¡¯t happened consistently enough this season.
The Lions are second worst in field goal percentage defense, giving up 44 percent from the field in conference games. They also rank ninth in 3-point percentage defense.
Gallegos has shown a propensity to take and make from distance, as has Talley. Shields already posted a career-efficiency night in University Park.
If the Penn State is has a chance to break through and earn its first conference win it will be defense that leads the way.
¡°They¡¯re a great challenge,¡± Chambers said of Nebraska¡¯s offensive weapons. ¡°We have to play great team defense and be dialed in for 40 minutes.¡±