One year ago, Ray Gallegos scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half to help Nebraska upset Wake Forest, 79-63, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Winston-Salem, N.C. Surely Husker fans remember how the 6-foot-2 guard from Salt Lake City drained 7 of 8 second-half shots to help the Big Ten keep the Commissioner’s Cup, the prestigious trophy that goes to the conference with the most “challenge” wins. Since the Big Ten already had possession of the trophy from the previous year, the nation’s oldest intercollegiate conference kept the hardware in Chicago because the Big Ten and the ACC each won six games in the 2012 challenge. Who knows? Maybe Nebraska can influence the 2013 Challenge on Wednesday night. The Huskers, after all, have the latest tipoff in the 12th and final game of 12 straight nationally televised matchups that will be shown on ESPN, ESPN2 and/or ESPNU.
“The Big Ten is a top-notch conference. This week will be the only time that every Big Ten player wants every other Big Ten team to win,” said Gallegos, a 2013-14 Husker co-captain who will keep track of Tuesday’s 6-game Big Ten/ACC Challenge slate – Indiana at Syracuse, Illinois at Georgia Tech, Penn State at Pittsburgh, Michigan at Duke, Notre Dame at Iowa and Florida State at Minnesota. Wednesday’s schedule includes Maryland at Ohio State, Wisconsin at Virginia, Northwestern at North Carolina State, North Carolina at Michigan State, Boston College at Purdue and last, but certainly not least, Miami at Nebraska, which is scheduled to begin at approximately 8:30 p.m. CT Wednesday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Teammates Will Benefit from Gallegos’ Attack Mode
“Yes sir, I’ll be rooting for the Big Ten every game,” Gallegos said while acknowledging that his shooting role has changed this season from last. Instead of being a guard coming off screens to shoot 3-point shots by the bushel in tight spots, this season’s focus “is aimed more on taking the ball to the floor and attacking so I can create for my teammates instead of just myself,” Gallegos said. “Last year, I was just coming off the screens and firing away on the threes. I’m looking to have a better shooting percentage and more consistency this year. We have more shooters and more options, and we all think Pinnacle Bank Arena is a shooter’s gym because of its atmosphere, the student section and the court itself. We’re all very comfortable playing there.”
Not surprisingly, the Huskers have more confidence as well as more offensive weapons. “Talent-wise, I feel we can compete with a lot of people,” said Gallegos, one of three Husker captains along with sophomores Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields.“Everybody feels good together – on and off the court. I mean, any of a number of other guys could have taken on the role of captain. Everyone wants to bring everyone else together and have a close relationship off the court. Our chemistry is good.”
In his press conference Monday afternoon at the Devaney Center, Nebraska Coach Tim Miles hinted the Huskers will need chemistry and much more to beat Miami, coached by Jim Larrañaga, who led the Hurricanes to the school’s first ACC regular-season and tournament championships last season before earning the AP, Naismith and the USBWA Henry Iba Coach of the Year honors. Miles pointed out that Larrañaga led George Mason to an NCAA Final Four before helping Miami achieve a No. 2 national rating, a No. 2 NCAA Tournament seed and a spot in the NCAA Sweet 16 last season. The Hurricanes were so dominant during the regular season, they beat No. 1 Duke by 27 points, North Carolina by 26, Florida State by 24 and Boston College by 22.
Miles: Miami’s Larrañaga is a Professor of Coaching
Even though Miami lost all five starters, Miles sees the residual effect of fielding a championship-caliber team. “You watch. Their length and athleticism is still really impressive,” Miles said. “They fine-tuned what they were doing early and they have more of an identity now. They’re going inside a lot more, and they’re going to pose a challenge for us … there’s no doubt about it. This guy is like a professor in coaching. He’s a unique guy who’s really going to be fun to match wits with.”
The good news and the bad news are somewhat similar for Miami and Nebraska. “They’re kind of in the self-discovery mode like we are,” Miles said, “so you never know who’s going to show up. You’ve got to be prepared for anything.”
Miles told the media Monday that he will change his starting lineup Wednesday “to get the blend right”, but he will not announce those changes. “We’re weak inside,” he admitted. “We’re at least a big guy short, and we knew this going in (to the season). It depends how you solve the problem.”
Late Start? So What! Come On … Lose Some Sleep
Nebraska’s second-year head coach hopes the Huskers can match the momentum that Andre Almeida and Gallegos created last year in Winston-Salem and carry it over to Pinnacle Bank Arena. “Maybe we can get Shavon and some other guy going again. It’s going to be a very even game. I’m excited and hopefully we can have a huge crowd, even though it’s a late game because of television. But what the heck … you’re going to be short a little sleep on Thursday, so come on …”
And make a party go on at PBA. “First of all, the crowd has to cheer good plays,” Miles said. “I mean, they can’t just fake it. It’s our job to rally the crowd, but we want them as raucous and as excited with sportsmanship as possible. Our crowds have been great. We play 33 games, and we’re only seven games into it. We have a lot of work to do, but this an important home game. We have to play well.”
Miles is fully aware that the level of play must justify the level of support, and when Nebraska players and Husker fans get in synch, he’s hoping the result will create the kind of momentum needed to beat an ACC team that discovered a new identity and wants to impose its strength on Nebraska’s weakness. A sellout crowd might be the difference, and Miles wants his young team to earn what they’re seeking – the respect of a raucous crowd that can create some major momentum for Nebraska’s Sunday visit to Omaha and its annual non-conference rivalry game against Creighton.
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