The last time the Huskers took the floor at Pinnacle Bank Arena the Rutgers Scarlet Knights ran them off of it to hand Nebraska’s its first conference home loss.
Rutgers shot 54% from the field en route to a 79-62 win.
“I think against Rutgers we played a little soft and lazy,” freshman center Yvan Ouedraogo said. “When you’re not engaged on defense stuff like that happens.”
One of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the conference got into the lane at will and finished at a high rate, scoring 54 points in the paint and converting 16 offensive rebounds into 12 points. Coach Fred Hoiberg said the Huskers (6-8, 1-2 Big Ten) have to be a lot tougher than they were against the Scarlet Knights moving forward.
“That’s been the biggest thing that we’ve tried to work on since that Rutgers game is being more consistent from a physicality standpoint on the defensive end of the floor,” Hoiberg said. “If we don’t bring more toughness, more edge, it’s going to be a long year. Teams are going to continue to pound it inside on us with a size advantage, with an experience advantage on us, and we have to do a much better job of making it difficult.”
Hoiberg said the team had a long film session after the game and they’ve had some physical practices since, but it’s not all about the big guys inside holding their own. The guards were as much or more at fault for Rutgers’ success inside as the bigs were.
“When they’re driving by us and getting straight-line drives to the basket, then the big has to step up and help and then the big 7-footer’s dunking the ball,” Hoiberg said. “The most offensive-rebounded shot is the missed layup and they were getting that time and time again by blowing by our guards. It’s got to be, again, a five-man effort. You have to have good on-the-ball defense. We were not good on the ball the other day, they got by us which created the help and then we weren’t smashing down on the big and when we did it was too late. You’ve got to be all five on the same page on that end of the floor and we did not do a good job of that against Rutgers.”
The Huskers can’t afford to make the same mistakes moving forward, especially with Iowa (10-4, 1-2 Big Ten) coming to town for a Tuesday night meeting. Myles Johnson, a 6-foot-11 center, put up 19 points and 14 rebounds against the undersized Huskers and now they’ll have to deal with one of the best big men in the country in Iowa junior Luka Garza. The 6-foot-11, 255-pound center is averaging 22.5 points on 56.9% shooting and 10.1 rebounds per game including 3.9 on the offensive end.
“They score it as well as anybody we’ll play all year,” Hoiberg said abut the Hawkeyes. “They play with great pace, great speed, and Luka Garza, not only is he as good as anybody in our league he’s as good as anybody in the country. They play through him, they do a great job getting him rim-running and he seals so well. If you get stuck behind him there’s no way you’re getting behind him and if you get it into him it’s going to be a basket so we need to do a good job of making it a team effort. It can’t just be one guy. It’s not just going to be Yvan or Kevin’s responsibility, it’s got to be a full team effort to try to slow him down.”
Garza has recorded a double-double in eight of his 14 games this season and has put up point totals of 29, 30, 34 and 44. Ouedraogo said he’s looking forward to the challenge of matching up with the All-America candidate.
“I came to Nebraska to play in the Big Ten and play against the best,” Ouedraogo said. “I’m really excited about that. I think that’s a great challenge for me as a young player to learn against a guy that is almost a pro … I know I’m going to improve my game after this game, I’m going to learn a lot and I’ve got to play hard. I really like games like that against big players.”
Unlike Rutgers, however, the Hawkeyes aren’t so one-dimensional in terms of how they score the ball. They’re averaging over 80 points with Garza inside and sharpshooters on the perimeter like Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick. The 6-foot-6 Wieskamp is the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.5 points per game while Fredrick, a redshirt freshman, is shooting 50% from 3 on 3.5 attempts per game.
“They shoot the heck out of the ball and Wiekamp’s a very versatile player,” Hoiberg said. “He’s playing a lot of minutes at the four but then he can move out and play the perimeter position and he scores it every which way — he can shoot the 3 obviously, he’s a good mid-range shooter and he can get it coast-to-coast as a facilitator as well. It’s a really good combination inside and out with those two guys, but they’ve got others as well, obviously, that can shoot it. The pace they play with, they’re really committed to getting out and playing fast and they’ve done a really good job of that all year long.”
Hoiberg is only a few games into his Big Ten career, but the Hawkeyes are a team that he’s already very familiar with from his time at Iowa State. Hoiberg went 4-1 against the rival Hawkeyes during his Cyclone tenure and though the rosters are very different from the last time to two coaches squared off, he does have an idea of what to expect from Fran McCaffery’s squad.
“Fran and I came in at the same time at Iowa State and Iowa, and he’s done a tremendous job there building a program and he’s got it rolling right now … We always had very good games, very competitive games against Iowa,” Hoiberg said. “But they’re doing a lot of the same things. You’ve got to prepare for a lot of different defenses. They do a really good job of changing things up with their press, they’re playing back to a lot of zone, they will play you man-to-man, so you have to be prepared for a lot of things when you’re playing Iowa.”
Tipoff on Tuesday is set for 8 p.m. on BTN. with Kevin Kugler and Stephen Bardo on the call.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.