Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hoiberg Looking for Max Effort, Competitiveness as Huskers Host Minnesota

February 08, 2022

Following Saturday’s blowout loss to Northwestern at home, Fred Hoiberg said he was looking forward to seeing who was ready to compete in Monday’s practice, because those who did would be the ones who see the floor on Tuesday against Minnesota.

“I’m a little hesitant even saying this, but we did have two really good days, because that doesn’t mean anything unless it carries over the game tomorrow,” Hoiberg said. “But they did respond by coming in with the effort energy that I was looking for. Now it’s about carrying it over and we’re not throwing the towel in, we’re not quitting on this thing. We’re going to keep trying to make progress and try to get some positive momentum in this last stretch of the season.”

Hoiberg said he altered his typical practice schedule leading up to a game, pushing the game plan introduction back to Tuesday because he felt they needed to spend Monday working on themselves, and Hoiberg was pleased with the response.

“It really was across the board, and I was looking for it,” Hoiberg said. “If we had guys coming in and pouting and not going out there and going hard, I was ready to make changes. Yesterday was a really good, healthy competition day and it got a little heated out there, which is what I was looking for. I wanted the guys to go out there and play with an edge; we had no edge to us in that game on Saturday.”

The fan base certainly had an edge after the Huskers’ 12th straight conference loss. During the Nebraska Basketball Show on Monday’s edition of Sports Nightly, Hoiberg fielded a couple of calls from disgruntled fans including one who said he was done going to games after 40 years and asked Hoiberg to provide a reason for why he should continue to be Nebraska’s coach.

“Obviously there’s a high level of frustration all across the board, and I can promise you nobody’s more frustrated than I am with everything that we’ve gone through, with losing the close games not being able to get over the hump, and then the game on Saturday was as disappointed as I’ve been on the sideline over the course of a 40-minute game,” Hoiberg said on Tuesday. “Even though we weren’t playing well early, we still somehow had a lead in that game. It was just a matter of time with the way we approached it and that’s disappointing. We’re doing everything we can to fix it.”

Nebraska followed up a blowout loss at Purdue with four straight single-digit losses, and he games against Rutgers and Michigan went right down to the final minutes, which is why Hoiberg was so surprised and disappointed with the team’s effort against the Wildcats, who carried a 3-8 conference record into Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“I thought we turned the page and were competing and I thought it was a matter of time before we got over the hump with the last four games that we had played against with Indiana, with Wisconsin, with Rutgers and with Michigan,” Hoiberg said. “We very easily could have won three of those games and with a couple of other close ones that we played and being right there. So the disappointment of coming back home in an early game on alumni weekend was as frustrated as I’ve been and our guys have responded with two good days. 

“Now it’s a matter of carrying that over. I know it doesn’t mean anything unless you get it in the win column and it doesn’t mean anything unless you carry over those efforts to the games and play through adversity and fight together and go out and battle, which we had done a really good job of in recent games. We just have struggled to get over the hump. Certain there’s a frustration level with everybody in this program and until we get some positive momentum it’s going to stay that way.”

Hoiberg said he’s been telling his team that if they’re going to make a mistake, make it an effort mistake — run through a screen, dive on the floor, take a charge, something to get the fan base rallying around them again.

“You’ve got to go out and fly around tomorrow and give yourselves a chance to play a very talented team,” Hoiberg said. “They’ve got two of the better players in this league with [Jamison] Battle and with [Payton] Willis, and then they’ve got really good role players around them. [Luke] Loewe had a big game, 19 or 21 maybe, in this last game against Iowa. They’re experienced, they’ve got a lot of older guys. [Eric] Curry has been around a long time. So it’s a team that I think all their losses are to the teams in the top 30 of the NET. So it’s a team that that’s been right there in a lot of games and has two really impressive wins in conference.”

Minnesota is 13th in the Big Ten with a 2-9 conference record and is 11-9 overall. The Gophers’ wins are against Michigan and Rutgers. Minnesota is 98th in KenPom (82nd in adjusted offensive efficiency, 124th in adjusted defensive efficiency). The Gophers are sixth in the country in ball security, turning the ball over on just 14.1% of their possessions, but they’re 354th in offensive rebound rate at 18.9%. Minnesota is a good 3-point shooting team at 36.4% (49th nationally), but they’re only 217th in 3-point rate.

Battle, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound transfer from George Washington, is leading the team at 16.9 points while shooting 35.9% from 3 on 6.9 attempts per game. Willis, a 6-foot-4 guard who transferred back to Minnesota for his extra season of eligibility after playing at College of Charleston last year, is averaging 16.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists while shooting 43.1% from 3 on 6.2 attempts per game. E.J. Stephens, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Lafayette, is chipping in 11.2 points while shooting 37.1% from 3. The 6-foot-9 Curry, a sixth-year senior, is the only healthy rotation player who was on the team last season and is averaging 8.3 points and 6.6 rebounds.

Tipoff on Wednesday is set for 8 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network with Kevin Kugler and Stephen Bardo on the call.

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