When Nebraska opened the doors of brand new Pinnacle Bank Arena at the beginning of the season, everyone associated with the program expected that one day the school would host a marquee game with serious NCAA tournament ramifications.
Nobody guessed it would happen so soon.
The Cornhuskers close the regular season Sunday night against ninth-ranked Wisconsin, looking for a win that could secure their first trip to the tournament in 16 years.
Nebraska (18-11, 10-7 Big Ten) has rebounded from a midseason stretch of six losses in seven games. It's since won seven of its last eight after Wednesday's 70-60 victory at Indiana.
The Cornhuskers have been getting it done with defense. They've held each of their last eight opponents under 40 percent from the field, a collective 35.0-percent effort while allowing an average of 56.1 points. Both those marks are the nation's fourth-best over the past month.
The run has put the Cornhuskers in position to earn a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament with a victory against the Badgers - as well as potentially leading to their first NCAA tournament berth since 1998.
"Every game for us is like a tournament play-in game," coach Tim Miles said. "Our margin for error is very slim. We had a great win against Indiana. Now, we're going to need a great win against an unbelievable Wisconsin squad."
The game also has serious ramifications for the Badgers (25-5, 12-5), despite the fact that a Big Ten regular season championship is out of reach even after extending their winning streak to eight by beating Purdue 76-70 on Wednesday. A victory Sunday would give Wisconsin the second seed in the conference tournament and bolster its case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Badgers have an impressive collection of wins this season, with seven of their victories coming against teams currently ranked in the Top 25 - including two against opponents now ranked in the top five (No. 1 Florida and No. 5 Virginia).
Always tough in Madison, Wisconsin has also been good away from home this season, going 11-2 in road and neutral site games. Guard Ben Brust, though, knows going into Pinnacle Bank Arena for the first time won't be easy.
"We play a great team on Sunday at Nebraska. From what I've heard it's one of the hardest places to play at in the Big Ten, a great venue, and they're going to bring the energy there," Brust said.
The Cornhuskers, who are 2-3 versus ranked teams, will likely need guard Terran Petteway to snap out of his recent slump in order to earn their first Big Ten win over Wisconsin. Petteway, who is among the Big Ten's leading scorers at 18.1 points per game in conference play, has averaged just 12.0 points on 27.5 percent shooting over Nebraska's last three games.
The Badgers have held the Cornhuskers to 43.0 points per game and won the four meetings since Nebraska entered the Big Ten by an average of 16.5 points.
Sam Dekker led the way in the most recent on Feb. 26, 2013, finishing with 19 points in 22 minutes off the bench.
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