Jeff Capel

Ask any coach in the Big 12 about the challenges of playing on the road, and they will say without hesitation that it’s the toughest thing to do in college basketball today.

Ask them about the importance of protecting home court, and they will say it’s the No. 1 priority.

Doc Sadler’s Nebraska team is the perfect example.

The Cornhuskers are 15-1 at home but winless on the road. While the Husker’s record at the Bob Devaney Sports Center is the sign of a good team, the coach knows his squad will have to conquer their road demons if they want to take the next step.

“For us to be a team that people want to talk about, you have to be able to go on the road and win,” Sadler said.

But while Sadler can’t quite put his finger on why the Cornhuskers have played so well in Lincoln, he does have a few ideas.

“Our guys just feel more comfortable, I guess,” Sadler said. “But I couldn’t be any happier than with what the people are doing here, coming out and helping us, being that extra person.”

But Texas head coach Rick Barnes said the main ingredient to Nebraska’s home-court advantage is Sadler.

“There is no coach in the country that does a better job than Doc,” Barnes said. “It’s a tough, tough place to play.”

It’s true the players are playing better across the board at home, and the crowds at the Nebraska games this season have been raucous. Sadler knows how to prepare his players, but the biggest reason for their success has been their stifling defense.

“Nebraska is one of the better defensive teams in the country,” said Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel. “They are just really, really hard to score against.”

The Cornhuskers allow 58.9 points per game on average, the best mark in the Big 12. Nebraska is also second in the conference in field-goal percentage defense behind Texas.

But even his team’s stellar defense in 2011 can’t stop Sadler from worrying about playing Texas at home Saturday.

“Not that I’m looking forward to it, but after our game Wednesday [against Oklahoma] we’ll try to do the best we can to get ready for them,” Sadler said.

Sadler knows the challenge that awaits his team and swears that the No. 2 Longhorns are “playing as well as anyone in the country.”

It will be the Cornhuskers’ last chance to beat the Longhorns as a member of the Big 12 — Nebraska will play in the Big Ten next season. The game will also be the final homecoming for Texas senior forward Matt Hill, a Lincoln native.

Hill was the Gatorade Nebraska Player of the Year his senior season at Lincoln Southeast High School and was selected to captain the Super-State team before leaving the state and heading south to Austin.

The redshirt senior arrived on campus in 2006, the same year Sadler took the job at Nebraska. Although Sadler didn’t get the opportunity to recruit Hill to the hometown school, the coach knows he missed the boat on a homegrown talent. Sadler said he did get a chance to see Hill play in Lincoln during the summers and came away with a lasting impression of the big man.

“The thing I remember most about Matt Hill was his athleticism and his hair,” Sadler said. “But I thought he was a very
good player.”

And just as Hill’s afro came and went, so too will the Cornhuskers’ final crack at the Longhorns in the Big 12.

Lucky for Nebraska, they won’t have to face Texas on the road.