FULLERTON, Calif. — After two games at the Wooden Legacy Classic, Tai Webster thinks Nebraska is getting a lot out of their early- season trip to southern California.
The Huskers held on to beat NCAA tournament qualifier Dayton on Thursday before pushing No. 14 UCLA in an 82-71 loss Friday night.
“I feel encouraged more than anything,” said the senior guard who had 19 points, seven rebounds and a career-high seven assists against the Bruins. “This is a great learning curve for our young guys, I think this will really stay in the back of their minds and we will only move forward from here.”
The Huskers complete tournament play in the third-place contest against Virginia Tech at 3 p.m. Sunday. That game will be played at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
Nebraska led nearly the entire way against Dayton, but Friday the Huskers led once — that was at 10-9. NU missed 24 of its first 31 shots from the field and trailed by 15 early in the second half before rallying.
“I thought we were tentative in the first half and that is not like us. Second half is more of a snapshot of what we’re like,” coach Tim Miles said. “But every time we got the game down to two or three points, they answered.”
Nebraska cut its deficit to 58-56 with 9:20 to play after Webster and Glynn Watson hit back-to-back 3-pointers. But on UCLA’s next possession, Isaac Hamilton hit a 3-pointer to start a 9-1 run and Nebraska never got closer than five the rest of the way.
Nebraska was within 72-66 with two minutes left, but UCLA scored 10 of the next 12 points to close out the win.
Bryce Alford led five Bruins in double figures with 18 points. He scored 14 after halftime, including a 3-pointer and four free throws in the final 1:04.
“I told the team that we needed this game. We haven’t had a game like that this year where adversity hit us,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “We played awfully well in the first half defensively and felt we got comfortable and satisfied. It was a great lesson for us.
“Nebraska is a well-coached team and they guarded us well. I liked how we handled adversity, especially after their guard hurt us.”
The guard that hurt UCLA in the second half was Watson, who scored 21 of his career-high 27 points after halftime. Watson and Webster were the only Huskers in double figures — Ed Morrow was next with eight points and seven rebounds.
Now the Huskers prepare to face Virginia Tech. In their semifinal game Friday, the Hokies led Texas A&M by 17 with less than 15 minutes to play before the Aggies stormed back for a 68-65 win.
The Hokies start a freshman, three sophomores and a junior as they average 84.8 points per game. The team’s leading scorer, senior Zach LeDay, comes off the bench and averages 15.8 points per game.
“Virginia Tech is going to be a whole new set of circumstances,” Miles said. “They are a tough, gritty, energetic, physical team. They’re going to throw multiple defenses at you. And they will play with high, high energy.
“We have to bounce back, we can’t hang our heads. (Saturday) we can go mope around and hang out with Goofy, Minnie and Mickey, that’s fine. But on Sunday, we need to be ready to go in and go to battle.”