Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hoiberg, Gates Speak on Husker Hoops Show

December 10, 2019

Coach Fred Hoiberg had to keep his appearance on Sports Nightly’s weekly Husker Hoops Show a bit short on Monday night. According to host Greg Sharpe, Hoiberg was heading out to hit the recruiting trail.

Even so, he touched on a few topics before giving way to assistant coach Armon Gates for the rest of the hour.

The Huskers are coming off a tough 95-76 loss to in-state rival Creighton on Saturday. Hoiberg is no stranger to a rivalry like that one as he experienced the Iowa-Iowa State series both as a player and as a coach.

Hoiberg said he went 3-1 against the Hawkeyes as a player, though the one loss still hurts him as he had a career-low one point in that game. As a coach, Hoiberg led the Cyclones to four wins in his five years there, and he called them four of the best wins of his coaching career.

“You look for those bragging rights in the state,” Hoiberg said. “The fact that they had played in it and we hadn’t, I don’t know if you can use that as an excuse, but more than anything, I think, for our group, we were really playing in a hostile environment for the first time and we just did not handle it well from the get-go. You’ve got to be ready as soon as that ball goes up in the air. We knew there was going to be energy with the team and we knew that there was going to be energy with the crowd and you have to go out there and try to withstand that. 

“They went on a run on us and unfortunately it went from 10 to 20 in a hurry as opposed to 10 down to two or four. It’s a mindset. You have to get yourself prepared to go out there and play on the road. I thought we had good preparation going into it, but we didn’t handle it well, obviously. Hopefully we play better at Indiana. It’s going to be another great environment. They’re playing very well in the early part of the season and hopefully we get off to a much better start.”

Hoiberg changed his starting lineup for just the second time this season against the Bluejays as he brought point guard Cam Mack off the bench. After the game, Hoiberg said it was because Mack was a minute late to the team bus.

“When I played for Larry Bird in Indiana—I played for Larry Brown my first two years then Larry Bird came in—and I’ll always remember what he said in that very first team meeting,” Hoiberg told Sharpe. “He said, ‘Guys, I played 13 years in this league and was never late one time for anything—any appointment, any bus, any shoot-around, any game time.’ If you’ve got a guy who’s arguably a top-10 player of all time that can be on time, then certainly we were all going to be on time. That is the single most important rule that I have is being on time. He was one minute late and the decision was easy to not start him.”

Hoiberg started Thorir Thorbjarnarson in Mack’s place. The junior was coming off a career-high 11 points against Georgia Tech and he one-upped that against Creighton, finishing with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range.

“The one thing that I’ve loved about Thor is just his approach, his daily approach,” Hoiberg said. “He’s always doing the right things, he’s always in the gym getting extra work. He worked really hard on his 3-point shot this summer after we took over the job and it’s paying off for him. He was 4-for-5 the other day, he really got it going in practice today, he’s playing with a lot of confidence, defensively you know he’s never going to make a mistake as far as where he’s supposed to be on the floor, he’s going to take care of the basketball, so I just think he’s been terrific and he’s been a stabilizing force for this team.”

Thorbjarnarson is averaging 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 19.7 minutes per game. He’s shooting 52.9% from the field including a team-best 52.6% from 3 (10-of-19). He’s already scored 51 points this season after scoring just 50 all season long as a sophomore.

Gates, the lone holdover from the previous coaching staff, talked about Thorbjarnarson as well.

“I’m so excited and happy about Thor’s development,” Gates said. “He really took the offseason seriously. He was always in the gym. He’s the first one in the gym, between he and and Charlie Easley, every morning for practice. I’m very happy with the consistency that Thor’s been playing with.”

Speaking of sticking around, Gates said he’s been very happy about his decision to stay in Lincoln and be a part of Hoiberg’s staff.

“It’s been amazing, to be honest with you,” Gates said. “With this current staff, three former head coaches (Hoiberg, Doc Sadler and special assistant to the head coach Bobby Lutz) that I get to work with and rub elbows with every single day. For me, just selfishly speaking, it’s the best thing for me at the moment. Doc has really taken me under his wing and Hoiberg gives me a ton of freedom.”

Gates said his role hasn’t really changed; he still brings a ton of energy. He takes on more of a disciplinarian position because of how well he relates to the players. Gates did say he’s trying to listen more than he speaks so that he can continue to learn from the other coaches on staff.

If there’s one positive that came out of the loss to Creighton, it was the performance of senior Matej Kavas. Kavas was a career 44.7% 3-point shooter at Seattle but he entered Saturday’s game 6-of-22 from 3 on the season. Against the Jays, he hit three of his seven attempts from deep and scored a season-high 11 points.

“As a former shooter—well, I thought I was a shooter—but as a former shooter, I just continue to tell Matej ‘Shooters shoot; keep shooting that basketball, man, don’t hesitate,’” Gates said. “At times, I’m sure you all can see it because as a staff we get a little frustrated with Matej passing up a couple open shots for a shot fake one dribble pull-up. But he’s going to get there. His numbers speak for themselves and it’s just going to take some time. He’s playing with 11 new guys.”

You can listen to the full replay of the show at Huskers.com.

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