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January 11, 2010Because of the constant warnings he'd been given about how tough and physical the Big 12 Conference was going to be since the first day he stepped on campus, Jorge Brian Diaz just assumed Saturday's game against Texas A&M would be a lot worse than it was.
While Nebraska came up short 64-53 to the Aggies in their first league game of the season, the 6-11 redshirt freshman center said he didn't feel at all overwhelmed with the level of physicality in his first taste of Big 12 play.
Diaz ended the day with a solid overall performance, scoring 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field to go along with three rebounds in 20 minutes of action.
As the Huskers prepare for an even more daunting task in No. 3 Kansas on Wednesday, the Caguas, Puerto Rico, native said he fully expects things to kick up a few notches as the Big 12 schedule rolls along. But now that he got a chance to get his feet wet, Diaz said the challenge doesn't seem quite as intimidating.
"It was kind of different from the other games, but I expect a little bit more physical game in these next games," Diaz said. "I don't know, they've been saying it's going to be harder in the Big 12, so I just expected more."
Through 16 games this season, Diaz ranks third on the team with 8.6 points per game and second with 4.2 rebounds, and his 24 blocked shots on the year rank eighth in the Big 12.
Head coach Doc Sadler said Diaz has shown constant improvement since officially joining the Huskers just before the start of league play last season. In particular, his growth over the course of this season has been about as good as Sadler could have hoped for.
"Brian has, in the last few weeks, started to make that progress," Sadler said. "Again, he's a freshman, and he's only going to improve. I expect him to take another step forward Wednesday night."
That hopeful step will come after going head to head with one of the best centers in college basketball in Kansas's Cole Aldrich. One of the most physically intimidating presences in the conference, Aldrich comes into Wednesday's game averaging 10.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per contest.
"There's not probably a better low post player than Cole Aldrich, so (Diaz is) going to get an opportunity to see where he's at," Sadler said. "I know he's probably looking forward to it."
One of the biggest knocks of Diaz since he arrived in Lincoln was his lanky frame and his inability to physically match up with the big bodies of the Big 12, and he said he knows full the challenge he's in for when Aldrich and the Jayhawks come to town.
Though it would be understandable for him to be a bit nervous about the task of shutting down one of the nation's best big men, Diaz is approaching it with the same mindset he had against Texas A&M and simply doing the best he can.
After all, the last big test didn't turn out to be nearly as bad as everyone said it was going to be.
"I've seen (Aldrich) play before, and I see he plays real hard," Diaz said. "He's kind of a physical player, so I expect a physical game and a lot of contact. I will have to try and do my best so he doesn't score a lot and we have a chance to win. I will try to focus on my defense with him and make him work for his points.
"I have confidence about it. I think every time you go out there and do your best and try your hardest, you'll be all right. I know he's a great. I will just focus on doing my best and work the hardest I can to try and limit him."