LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -At Nebraska, where football rules, basketball has always been an afterthought. Coach Doc Sadler is doing his best to change that.
With less than a month left in the regular season, Nebraska (15-7, 5-4) is fourth in the Big 12 and making a run at its first NCAA tournament bid since 1998.
Last weekend's 58-55 victory over then-No. 16 Texas, Nebraska's third straight, has created a buzz in a state where Creighton, a small private school in Omaha, has been the dominant basketball school the past decade.
``At the time Doc inherited the program, I thought it would take three to five years to be at the level he's at now,'' said Andy Markowski, who played for the Huskers in the 1990s. ``There was a lot of apathy around the program. They just weren't very competitive. With the win Saturday, they're starting to get a little national attention as an up-and-coming program.''
d an NIT bid last year.
But the program hasn't won a conference title since taking the Big Seven in 1950 and hasn't won a game in six NCAA tournament appearances. The Huskers haven't had an All-American since 1978 or an all-conference first-teamer since 1999.
The Cornhuskers' crowning achievements: Winning the 1994 Big Eight tournament and the 1996 NIT.
Athletic director Tom Osborne, the school's Hall of Fame former football coach, said strengthening the basketball program is a priority.
Osborne doesn't accept that Nebraska can be only a football school. Nebraska is the only Division I football program in a state of 1.8 million, but basketball allegiances are split between the Huskers and Creighton, which has ranked in the top 20 nationally in attendance the past three years.
The this season's Huskers advertise themselves as the smallest team in Division I. Their tallest player is 6-foot-8. Nobody else is taller than 6-6.
Sadler's calling card is his team's hounding defense. Nebraska is giving up a league-low 58.5 points a game and averaging nine steals.
``I do believe being at Nebraska you may not get the opportunity to coach a number of great offensive players at one time,'' Sadler said, ``so you have to hang your hat on something. It's something we've taken great, great pride in selling, and our guys have bought into it.''
Rebounders Club booster group, said the team's grit appeals to fans who subscribe to the Midwestern work ethic.
``Support is beginning to rally around Doc. People are convinced we've got the right guy leading the charge,'' Reid said. ``Now we have to get some of the working parts to enable us to compete night in and night out.''
Sadler looks at this season as a building block. He expects the program to compete in the upper tier of the Big 12 every year and reach the NCAA tournament regularly.
He would be the first coach to do that at Nebraska. Joe Cipriano and Moe Iba put competitive teams on the court, and Danny Nee took teams to the NCAA tournament five times in eight years before the program bottomed out under Barry Collier.
Nee, whose 254 wins from 1986-2000 rank first among Nebraska coaches, said the folksy Sadler has what it takes to make the program a consistent winner.
Nee, now the director of player development at Rutgers, said Sadler must overcome the same obstacles he faced: geography, facilities and lack of tradition.
There are few Big 12-caliber players produced in-state, and the Huskers have no natural recruiting base. Sadler has expanded Nebraska's overseas presence, plucking future Huskers Christian Standhardinger and Christopher Niemann out of Germany and Brian Diaz from Puerto Rico.
Help is on the way on the facilities front. Osborne has proposed that a practice gym be built next to the Devaney Sports Center, at a cost of about $15 million. Osborne also plans to move the team into a new downtown Lincoln arena - if voters approve a bond issue - or initiate a major renovation of the Devaney Sports Center.
``I've told Doc that we're going to try to get them to where they can be competitive as far as facilities with some of the top schools in the country,'' Osborne said.
Sadler knows in the Big 12 - with Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas the established powers - there is a chasm between wanting a strong program and actually having one.
``The obstacles,'' he said, ``are the other 11 teams in the league, and I don't see them changing.''

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