NU Notebook: Huskers Look To Return To Roots
He didn’t use the same words, but what Tim Miles said Friday about putting his Nebraska basketball team in a positive, winning mindset sounded a bit like the mantra for Huskers football coach Scott Frost.
Play with a desire to excel, and no fear of failure.
Nebraska (13-6, 3-5 Big Ten Conference) has lost four of six games heading into Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against an Ohio State team on a five-game losing streak, and Miles simply wants his team to play hard, play loose and quit thinking.
“What’s hurt is, in the times we haven’t played well, it’s ourselves, our own mentality,” Miles said. “I’ve talked about it different ways. Sometimes we’re too smart for our own good, we overthink things.
“Here’s what I tell them: Play as hard as you can, play as well as you can and don’t mess with karma. … We just need to play. Play, play, play. Play as hard as you can, as long as you can.”
Since a 76-69 loss Monday at Rutgers, coaches have spent much of this week’s practices focusing inward. Not until late into Thursday’s practice did coaches begin the scout for Ohio State.
“It’s been a lot about our mentality and where we need to go,” said Miles, noting the focus has been on better rebounding, playing more aggressively, playing better defense and making harder cuts.
“I haven’t done a good job of preparing them for the physicality they need to have to play successfully. Just the last two or three weeks, or whatever it may be, I just don’t think I’ve done a good job of getting them ready, and I think we’ve done a better job this week, and I hope it translates into better results.”
Senior forward Isaac Copeland Jr. said players have responded positively in practice this week to the coaches’ challenges.
“We need to get back to our roots,” Copeland said. “Earlier in the year, we played at a really high level, and over the last couple of games, we’ve kind of dipped away from that. So focus in practice has been toughness, defense and getting back to being who we are.”
Copeland has also accepted Miles’ personal challenge of becoming more of a vocal leader, somebody to take charge on the court when things go awry.
“I think we really need it, and so far this year, I think I’ve kind of been here and there with my vocal leadership,” Copeland said. “Especially in times like these, I need to step up, so that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Since logging 26 minutes in a Dec. 29 victory over Southwest Minnesota State, freshman center Brady Heiman has seen his playing time dwindle to almost nothing.
He didn’t play against Rutgers and Penn State, and in between, combined for a mere 3 minutes in two games.
Miles now says he needs to get more minutes for Heiman, who had been averaging 3.8 points and 3.7 rebounds off the bench through the season’s first 13 games.
“I just think that he’s a guy that can do some things and it will allow us to play in a different way, too,” Miles said.
Why did Heiman’s playing time suddenly decrease?
“I don’t think he played very well for a while. I think he hit a wall for a little bit,” Miles said. “We’re asking a lot of him, so that’s not uncommon. But I want him to know I believe in him, too. That’s why I’ve got to roll him back out there.”
Baseball Team Eager
Suffice it to say Darin Erstad is pumped about his 2019 Nebraska baseball team
“These guys are ticked off and ready to get on the field,” Erstad told reporters Friday before his team’s first practice of the season, inside Hawks Championship Center. “It’s safe to say motivation has not been an issue for this group.”
That’s because they’re ready to atone for last season, which ended with the Huskers beaten and bruised and sitting at home in May, with the Big Ten Tournament playing in Omaha without them.
But Erstad was adamant Nebraska’s downfall had zero to do with lack of effort.
“You look, we could’ve been going through the motions, and we were battling tooth and nail all the way until the end in that last series against Illinois,” Erstad said. “At no point did this team ever shut it down and stop playing.
“I like that. We have that. We have a bunch of fighters. If we’re healthy this year, it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Injuries were too many to list here, too frustrating to relive.
“A lot of guys were injured and didn’t get a chance to do what they wanted to do,” Erstad said. “Any time you don’t get to play, that kind of fuels the fire.”
For senior Angelo Altavilla (pictured above), this season “is do or die,” he said, and a chance at redemption, both personally and for his team.
“I know last year didn’t go like we expected it to. We’re going to play with a chip on our shoulder,” Altavilla said. “There’s some stuff you can build on (from last season) but for the most part, you just kind of put it behind you and forget about it.”
Nebraska welcomes 15 newcomers, including 11 freshmen, as part of a recruiting class ranked No. 16 nationally by D1 Baseball, and the best in the Big Ten.
Erstad jokes he didn’t have a crystal ball to say who among the freshmen could make an immediate impact, or how the group as a whole will adapt. But he does know they’ll have every opportunity to prove themselves.
“We have a lot of uncertainty all over the place, and that creates opportunity,” Erstad said. “We’re going to have a lot of guys fighting for different spots.”
And with the caliber of teams Nebraska is playing in the nonconference, Erstad will know for certain who among the newcomers can contribute by the time Big Ten Conference play begins.
That’s one benefit of a schedule that features games against seven NCAA Tournament qualifiers from last season, including three College World Series participants. In addition, the Huskers face each of the top four teams from last year’s Big Ten standings.
“It’s going to put us in a position, if we don’t win 40 games, we’re going to have a shot to get into the postseason,” Erstad said. “To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and we’re going to get every last shot to do that.”
Nebraska opens the season Feb. 15 with the first game of a four-game series at UC-Riverside.
The No. 7 Nebraska wrestling team returns home Sunday to face No. 18 Illinois at the Devaney Sports Center, and 157-pound senior Tyler Berger (16-2) aims to get back on track after his loss last week to top-ranked Jason Nolf of Penn State.
Berger (16-2) will face No. 12 Eric Barone, as he focuses entirely on the rest of his senior season and a chance again at Nolf in the NCAA Championships in March. Berger said on Twitter he’s abandoning social media for the next 57 days, saying, “this will be a time to prepare my body and my mind for March 21-23.”
The Huskers are currently 2-1 (1-1 Big Ten) in duals at the Devaney Center this year, with wins over Northwestern and Northern Iowa, and an 18-17 loss by criteria to Wisconsin.
Homecoming for Whitish
Junior guard Hannah Whitish returns to her home state of Wisconsin when the Nebraska women’s basketball team (9-10, 4-4 Big Ten) plays at Wisconsin (10-10, 1-7) in a 2 p.m. game Sunday.
Whitish, a graduate of Barneveld High School, has scored 12 points in three straight games and owns a team-best 11 double-figure scoring efforts for the Huskers this season. Whitish, who was Wisconsin’s Miss Basketball in 2016, was a Preseason All-Big Ten choice this season after earning second-team all-conference honors for the Huskers a year ago.
The four-time first-team All-Wisconsin selection is averaging 8.9 points and a team-best 3.8 assists for Nebraska this season.
Last year, the Huskers defeated Wisconsin 51-48 in Lincoln, and 11 of the 15 games in the history of this series have been decided by 10 or fewer points.
Coaches vs. Cancer
Saturday’s basketball game against Ohio State will mark Nebraska’s annual participation in the National Association of Basketball Coaches and American Cancer Society’s Suits and Sneakers week.
In addition, fans can receive information on how to join the National Bone Marrow Registry, as volunteers will be at all of the entrances around Pinnacle Bank Arena. This is the sixth year that the Husker basketball program has participated in the Be the Match program, and it has led to at least four bone marrow matches from previous games, including one donor who will be honored on Saturday.
In addition to Cameron Beck, the Nebraska program will also honor a special group of people who are either battling cancer or have donated bone marrow thru the Be the Match program. That group includes Avery Harriman, the son of former Nebraska assistant coach Chris Harriman, who’s now four years cancer free.
Nebraska will also recognize Florence Dalby, a breast cancer survivor who turns 99 next week. She’s been a basketball season ticket holder for 80 years.
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