Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

After Chance to Recover, Nebraska Gets Back to It Against South Dakota

November 26, 2021

After a busy stretch featuring three games in five days, the Huskers got a few days this week to catch their collective breath and work on themselves on the practice court before turning their attention to their next opponent.

“It was good,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We hadn’t really had an opportunity to practice in the last week so just being able to get back on the floor and address some things and some areas where we need to improve and get better and I thought we had a good couple days of practice. Now, obviously, carrying it over to the game and being consistent with it is going to be an important part of this whole process.”

The Huskers made a marked improvement offensively in wins over Idaho State, Southern and Tennessee State. After shooting under 41% from the field and totaling 31 assists on 71 field goals in the first three games (including two losses), Nebraska shot better than 52% and recorded 18 assists in each of the last three.

“I thought our offensive pace and execution was really good the other night,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously we did not shoot the ball well, but we were very efficient inside the arc and I didn’t think we settled for the 3-point shot. I really thought we tried to get the ball inside and Alonzo [Verge Jr.] was great with his pace and decision-making all game long.”

Verge recorded a double-double with 18 points and a career-high 10 assists in that win over Tennessee State, and that was with the Huskers shooting just 24% from 3. Nebraska made 18 3s on a 36.7% clip against Creighton and Idaho State. In the other four games this season, Nebraska made 19 3-pointers on 90 attempts (21.1%). Overall, Nebraska is shooting 26.6% from deep, good for 336th in the country.

“I think a big thing is just keep working on it and trying to gain some confidence and when when we do have a game where we take the lid off, which I’m confident that will happen, then hopefully we’ll be off and running,” Hoiberg said. “But it is a delicate balance as far as bringing attention to it. I think the biggest thing is just making sure we’re getting as many reps as possible, get a lot of shots up in practice and then making sure we’re going, when we when we get into our offense, getting game shots. We did a drill yesterday that got us a lot of just live-ball shooting in an advantage situation. So hopefully we can get that going tomorrow. I still feel good about our shooting and I’m confident we’ll get it going.”

Hoiberg said heading into the season that 3-point shooting was the area in which he felt the team would be most improved this season based on the players he brought in. C.J. Wilcher has lived up to expectations, shooting 42.3% through six games. However, newcomers Bryce McGowens, Keisei Tominaga, Wilhelm Breidenbach and Keon Edwards are shooting a combined 13-of-66 (19.7%) while Lat Mayen, who led the team in 3s last season, is just 5-of-20 (25%). Some of the poor percentages goes back to shot selection, but the Huskers are getting plenty of good looks as well that haven’t fallen.

“I thought there were six of them that we forced or took too early,” Hoiberg said. “One was C.J. right after he had hit one. But we had a couple of dribble-ups and a couple one-pass shot possessions and those are the ones we need to eliminate. We need to get movement. When we do move it, which we’re doing a much better job of as we’ve gone along, when we move it the 3-point shots that we’re getting are good looks. I thought we had seven or eight wide open ones that we just didn’t make the other night that, again, I’m confident we’ll go down as we continue on.”

The Huskers have been so efficient despite their shooting woes in large part because Derrick Walker has been finishing everything around the basket and Nebraska has been playing through him. He is 19-of-20 from the field in the last three games and has scored 14, 15 and 16 points in those games. He had 11 points and took seven total shots from the field in Nebraska’s first three games. Walker also had three assists in Nebraska’s win against Southern.

“Good things happen when we play through Derrick,” Cook said. “He’s a good decision-maker at the elbow, he’s he’s a good passer, playmaker there. Obviously, he and Alonzo have really developed a nice chemistry in their two-man game. Bryce has found him a couple times as well. But his finishing has been an elite level, obviously, especially the last couple games. I think he’s only missed one shot. So we’ve got to continue to look for Derrick and when our shots aren’t falling, find a way to make sure he’s involved and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that.”

The Huskers will close out their season-opening home stand on Saturday against South Dakota (4-1). The Coyotes beat Southern by three and Tennessee State by 17 as part of the multi-team event the wraps up on Saturday in Lincoln. South Dakota’s lone loss came in blowout fashion at Drake, 99-50 in the Coyotes’ second game of the season.

The backcourt leads the way for South Dakota as their top three scorers are all guards. Cruz Perott-Hunt (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) leads the team with 14.4 points and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 36.4% from 3. Xavier Fuller (6-foot-4, 170 pounds) and Mason Archambault (6-foot, 188 pounds) are in double figures as well at 12.8 and 11.6 points per game, respectively. South Dakota is first in the country at the free-throw line in both makes and attempts.

“They really drive the ball,” Hoiberg said. “They they make a conscious effort to try and get in the paint as much as possible. Their last game against Tennessee State, they got into the bonus very early in both of those games. So it’s going to be important to make sure we guard the bounce, defend without fouling and try not to put them on the line.”

Tipoff on Saturday is set for 1 p.m. CT at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Big Ten Network Plus will stream the game.

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