Husker Hoops Rested, Ready For February
From four games in eight days to zero games in eight days, and with no games on three of the last four weekends, the Nebraska men’s basketball team is ready to being the home stretch of its unorthodox Big Ten Conference schedule.
It begins Tuesday night, when Nebraska (17-8, 8-4 Big Ten Conference) plays at Minnesota (14-11, 3-9) to begin the month of February on full rest.
“Coach was saying we looked kind of rundown against Wisconsin,” Nebraska sophomore forward Isaiah Roby said. “We looked slow and kind of lazy. We don’t have any more excuses about that now.”
Roby went scoreless in Nebraska’s last game, a 74-63 victory Jan. 29 that marked the Huskers’ third straight victory over six days. Not until he saw film of the game, though, did Roby agree with Miles’ assessment.
“You don’t really feel that way playing,” Roby said, “but when you watch the film, you kind of see it.”
While Miles would normally rather have his hot team keep playing rather than risk losing momentum, he understands the need for rest, especially after his team’s grueling January.
Grueling, yet very productive.
Nebraska won seven conference games in January, a feat the Huskers had never before accomplished. It’s put them in position for the NCAA Tournament and top-four finish in the Big Ten Conference, which comes with a double-bye at the Big Ten Tournament that begins only 3 weeks from Wednesday.
In fact, the Huskers are very mathematically alive for a regular season Big Ten championship. Their overall success has caught the eye of one Associated Press Top 25 voter, Terry Hutchens, who ranked Nebraska No. 22 on his ballot, giving the Huskers all four of their points in Monday’s poll.
Of course, a couple of losses, and perhaps only one, could severely alter that path.
“I just want them to get beyond the, ‘I have arrived,’ or, ‘I think we’re doing good,’ ” Miles said. “We just have to stay hungry, play like an underdog and keep going from there.”
Nebraska is going for a season sweep of the Gophers after defeating a much better Minnesota team in Lincoln on Dec. 5. At that point, Minnesota held a No. 14 national ranking and had Reggie Lynch patrolling the paint with his length and athleticism.
Now, the Gophers have neither. Lynch has been suspended and sat out the last nine games, Amir Coffey has played only twice in that stretch because of a shoulder injury, and Minnesota has lost eight of nine games.
However, the Gophers showed some resolve Saturday at No. 21 Michigan, taking the Wolverines to overtime before losing by three points. In that game, Minnesota stuck with a seven-man rotation.
“I think they’re little bit a team of unknowns,” Miles said.
Nebraska is trending the other direction, catching the attention of ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi, who Monday had Nebraska on list of first four teams on the outside of the NCAA Tournament field.
“We know what we have to do,” Roby said. “If you want to make the tournament for us, we’ve got to get 22, 23 wins based on our resume right now. We see the big picture, but we’re taking one game at a time.”
Miles said he’s learned from the positive, uplifting attitude of women’s coach Amy Williams, who also has her team on track for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid in only her second season.
Nebraska (17-7, 8-3) continues to receive votes in the Associated Press Top 25, even after Sundays’ 64-57 loss to No. 11 Maryland that snapped the Huskers’ five-game losing streak.
Three-time defending Big Ten champion Maryland (20-3, 9-1) remains in firm control of first place after surviving its closest game yet with the Huskers. Not once had Nebraska stayed within single digits of Maryland in the teams’ previous six Big Ten meetings. That included last year’s 44-point loss in Lincoln.
But please, save the pats on the back.
“This is a completely new team. This is a completely different season,” Williams said. “We’re not happy anymore with that moral victory of being competitive. We want to find a way to get over the hump and particularly in front of this incredible crowd that came out to support us on Super Bowl Sunday.”
Indeed, 6,185 fans came to Pinnacle Bank Arena to witness what’s become a remarkable turnaround season for Williams and the Huskers.
Nebraska will enjoy a week of rest before hosting Wisconsin on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena. That marks a stretch of four straight games against teams placed No. 9 through No. 13 in the current conference standings before the Huskers’ rematch at Maryland to conclude the regular season on Feb. 25.
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.