After two tight wins in Spain, Nebraska closed out its tour with a blowout win over Barcelona All-Stars on Saturday.
Nebraska took a 12-point lead into halftime then blew the game wide open to start the third, getting the reserves plenty of playing time in the fourth quarter.
“I’m really pleased with how the trip ended up,” Coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters during a Zoom call. “I really challenged our guys at halftime to come out and go on a big run and try to put this team away, and that’s exactly what we did. We started on an 18-nothing run to open up the third. Juwan [Gary] was a huge part of that. This was the first time on the trip that he has played in the second half, and he had nine points in four minutes of action in the second half.
“So we went from a 12-point lead at halftime to up 30 and that’s exactly what we wanted to do was come out and get off to a fast start in the second half and that gave us an opportunity to play our young guys the entire fourth quarter. Jeff Grace, Henry Burt, Eli [Rice] played a lot of those minutes. Ramel [Lloyd Jr.] was in there for a big stretch of that and then Cale [Jacobsen] as well.”
Gary finished with 13 points on 6-of-7 from the field and 1-of-2 from the line, five rebounds and two steals in just under 14 minutes. He came off the bench in the first game before starting the last two as Nebraska eased him back into the lineup in his first action since his season-ending shoulder injury on Jan. 10.
“We wanted to continue to ramp up his activity levels and just make sure that he’s not aggravating something else within activity with the shoulder,” Hoiberg said. “You always worry about how are they going to handle the load with their legs and their feet and everything like that. So we had a little bit of soreness in some of the work that he was doing early, but to get him out here, I think a big thing with Juwan, it gives him confidence to know that he can go out there and play and not have to worry about the shoulder. That’s always the thing you worry about coming back from a major surgery is how you’re going to respond to that and get over the hump on it.”
Freshman Eli Rice led Nebraska in scoring for the second straight game, finishing with a game-high 16 points on 6-of-8 from the field (3-of-5 from 3) and 1-of-1 form the foul line. He scored in double figures in all three games, scoring 12 in the first game and 20 in the second.
C.J. Wilcher was right behind Rice with 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting (2-of-3 from 3) plus six rebounds and five assists. Wilcher also scored in double figures in all three games totaling, 51 points and 24 rebounds in Spain.
“C.J. has had a great summer, and I think a big part of that is he’s worked on his body, continues to do that,” Hoiberg said. “Not just shooting the ball and putting the ball in the basket, but he rebounded the ball well on this trip and he also passed the ball well. He had five assists today and only two turnovers.”
Redshirt freshman walk-on Cale Jacobsen nearly recorded a triple-double with 13 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and four steals, shooting 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-4 from the line. Sophomore Jamarques Lawrence again started at point guard and contributed 10 points on 4-of-7 shooing (2-of-4 from 3), six assists, four rebounds and two steals. Redshirt freshman Ramel Lloyd Jr. rounded out the Huskers in double figures with 10 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Hoiberg said turnovers were again an issue as the team gave the ball away 22 times, but he was pleased with the unselfishness as Nebraska dished out 25 assists on 33 buckets and shot 55.9% from the field including 41.7% (10-of-24) from 3.
While the final game wasn’t particularly close, the first two provided the short-handed Huskers — with just nine available players including three walk-ons and Gary in a limited role — with opportunities to face late-game clutch situations, and Hoiberg said he was pleased with how the team handled itself throughout the trip.
“That’s one thing coming over here, we really didn’t know what the guys, how they would come out,” Hoiberg said. “That first game is always tough. You’re still a little jet-lagged and the basketball is so much different internationally. It’s so much more physical, they get into your body, they don’t call the fouls that they do in in the U.S. game. So it put us in a lot of situation-type games. We had to get a stop the other night at the end of the game to prevent the game going to overtime. We had to execute a play; we were able to advance the ball and we drew a foul. So just being in those type of late-game situations is very beneficial.
“It’s better than winning a game by by 30 when you have the opportunity to try to close out a game or to come back and get yourself back into it to give yourself a chance to compete for the win. So we had several of those moments and guys that are going to be on the floor for us had to go out and execute and we found out a way to be on the right end of those. Obviously we’ve got a lot of guys that are going to be on the floor that weren’t here on this trip or weren’t available for us, but for the guys that were I was pleased with how we executed and found a way to get some wins.”
Nebraska has one more day of sightseeing and one more team meal planned before wrapping up the trip and heading back to the United States. Hoiberg sad he’s giving the team about two weeks off before they get back to work.
“We’ll start this semester on the 24th, so a lot of them have flights booked already for the next morning to go home and recharge and get themselves ready. When you do these foreign trips you always worry about the burnout factor. We tried to really manage their loads with our sports science department and gradually increase to where we can get them to play. Obviously they’re not in tip-top shape right now — we don’t need them to be — but some of these guys ended up playing a lot of minutes because of how thin we were with bodies. So it’s important to get back and get some rest.”
Hoiberg said he’s giving the team the first week of school off so the student-athletes can get settled in with their classes before diving back into individual work, and by that time Josiah Allick and Sam Hoiberg could be ready to participate without restriction.
“I’m just really pleased with how our guys went through the summer,” Hoiberg said. “We had eight quality weeks; the first four weeks were all pretty much individual skill work and then we went into pretty much team practices. And we played a lot of lineups where we didn’t even practice; I felt it was more important to get Rienk Mast, when we had him for six of the 10 practices, to play the position that he’s going to play during the course of the season. We have guys all over the court at positions they probably won’t play once the season starts. But it was a really good quality trip and our guys are getting close to getting back and healthy.”