Nearly everything that could have gone wrong against UC Riverside on Tuesday did, and the result was a season-opening loss to a team picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big West.
The last couple of days for Fred Hoiberg have been about making sure that doesn’t happen again.
“I thought we had a couple good days of work,” Hoiberg said after practice on Friday. “I had a long meeting with the players yesterday just about some things I felt needed to be cleaned up and I thought we responded and came out on the court and did some good things. But that doesn’t mean anything unless we carry that over to tomorrow and the games the rest of the season. You can talk about it all you want, come out here on the practice court with nobody here and do it the right way, but unless you do it once the lights turn on it’s for nothing.
“As I talked about with this group, the biggest thing that we wanted to see is how we responded to adversity and we did not do it well the other night. It’s a learning opportunity for our group and hopefully we go out and do better tomorrow.”
Hoiberg talked about adversity all throughout the summer and preseason, and fans saw why on Tuesday. When shots stopped falling for Nebraska and started falling for UC Riverside, everything else started unraveling for Nebraska. Guys started trying to do things on their own and the teamwork on both ends of the floor disappeared.
“I thought we really pressed once they hit us with a haymaker,” Hoiberg said. “We got off to a very good start, we got up nine right out of the gate, and then when things slowed down, they started making shots and controlling the tempo, I thought we tried to come back and get it all back at once. It’s a process, you’ve got to take it possession by possession. You’re not going to go out there and get it all at once, but you have to continue to play the right way. That’s something that we worked on these last couple days.”
Junior wing Thorir Thorbjarnarson said Hoiberg’s message this week has been about togetherness.
“We’ve just got to stick together,” Thorbjarnarson said. “Obviously Tuesday we lost that game and we didn’t stay together the whole time. The main thing is we’ve got to stay together as a team and we can, and if we do we’re going to be good. I’ve got nothing but trust in these guys and I’m pretty sure we’re going to be fine.”
Nebraska had a lot of issues against the Highlanders, but the biggest one was probably the team’s inability score efficiently from anywhere on the floor. The Huskers shot 29.1% overall including 23.1% (6-of-26) from 3. That’s not going to get it done.
“I thought we had some really good looks,” Hoiberg said. “We had three possessions where we took a shot without a pass or with one pass, and those were three bad shots — two were step-backs and then one was a quick one coming down in transition. They had a game plan to basically say we’re going to let the five-man beat us and Kevin [Cross] had great shots; we’ll take those every day of the week.
Cross, the 6-foot-8 freshman who is backing up fellow freshman Yvan Ouedraogo at center, scored four points on 1-of-10 shooting including 1-of-6 from deep against Riverside
“Kevin’s a very good shooter, that’s one of the things we liked about him in the recruiting process was his versatility, his ability to handle it and his ability to knock down perimeter shots, and he was right there on every single one of those in the first half and barely grazed back iron,” Hoiberg said. “It’s a game of inches and an inch from going in. We talked to Kevin about shooting those; he has the shooter’s mentality to think the next one’s going in. We shoot a lot in practice. We shoot more with this team than probably I ever have with any team.”
The Huskers went through an extensive post-practice shooting session on Friday before and while Thorbjarnarson spoke with the assembled media. We’ll see on Saturday if all those extra shots pay off as Southern Utah swings through Lincoln.
The Thunderbirds smacked an NCCAA team in Bethesda 110-66 in their season-opener on Tuesday. Southern Utah started four guards and one forward in the game, though two of those guards are 6-foot-5 and a third is 6-foot-7.
“This is a long, athletic, fast team,” Hoiberg said. “They create turnovers and are very good on the glass. If we don’t go out there with the right mentality it could be a tough day for us.”
Sustaining effort on the glass is a big focus for the Huskers. In the first half against Riverside, Nebraska out-rebounded the Highlanders 12 to five on their end of the floor. In the second half, the split was eight to eight, making it tough for Nebraska to get out in transition.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Hoiberg said. “You have to get the rebound first. These guys are really long and athletic and they go. They go after it and if we don’t make a conscious effort to hit a body and keep them off the glass, we’re not going to be able to get out in transition. That’s kind of what happened the other night. Early on we were getting stops, we were getting deflections and we got our transition game going, and then it slowed down, they dictated tempo and we struggled to get anything in the open court the rest of the game. This is a good team, it’s a well-coached team. We need to come out with great energy early and if we don’t they’re going to slap us in the face.”
Tipoff against Southern Utah is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday on BTN+.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.