Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers Head to Evanston Looking for Much Better Effort in Rematch with Northwestern

February 21, 2022

Nebraska has hit the stretch run of the regular season, but it’s going to be an uphill climb for the Huskers as they will play four games in the next eight days, three of which are on the road. After what the team experienced last year, however, Nebraska has plenty of experience with short prep.

“That should be pretty easy, as opposed to the 15 in 30 that we played last year,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “So I guess I have a little bit of experience with playing this type of schedule based on our COVID last year. A lot of it’s going to be mental preparation. It starts with a game and a team that just flat out put it on us last game, one of our more disappointing efforts of the year. So we’ve got to bounce back, hopefully go out there and play 40 minutes of consistent basketball and give ourselves a chance.” 

Hoiberg spoke with a raspy voice on Monday morning as he is battling a viral infection that has impacted his preparation for Tuesday’s game at Northwestern.

“I was not in practice yesterday, came and spoke to the team and then tried to get back and get as much rest as I could,” Hoiberg said. “This thing hit me the day before our game the other night. It’s just kind of progressively gotten worse. I have COVID-tested every day and I’ve not tested positive. I tested for the flu, I do not have the flu. It’s just a viral infection that our team doctor said would probably last about a week. So I’m just being really careful about being around the guys right now. He thinks today hopefully will be a turning point and I’ll start feeling better tomorrow.”

Hoiberg said he will coach on Tuesday, but regardless of how he feels, verbal communication will be difficult in a road environment at Welsh-Ryan Arena. He’ll rely on his assistants to speak up when he’s not able to do so himself.

“Our assistants are going to have to do probably the majority of that,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got our hand signals. So that’s pretty much going to be my communication. Obviously they’re not going to be able to hear me on the road. So we’ll meet about that. I’ve already talked to my assistants about it. They did a great job handling practice yesterday and then again today I was more involved, but pretty much on the side again. I’ve just really got to be careful being around the guys too much,”

The Huskers played against Northwestern on Feb. 5 and the Wildcats ran them off their own floor. The final score was 87-63, but the Huskers trailed by as much as 35 in the second half before Nebraska closed the game on an 11-0 run. 

“If you’re a competitor, you’re going to bounce back and go out and do everything you can to reverse what happened the last time we played,” Hoiberg said. “It was a matchup after a string of close games and we did not come out and compete to the level that we needed to be in a Big Ten game against a team that puts you in a different type of situation based on the players that we’ve been playing with and playing, more low-post type players. They have, with their first unit, spread five; it can really put you in a difficult position.”

Northwestern put up 49 points in the first half and shot 13-of-31 (41.9%) from 3 overall after cooling off a bit in the second half. Point guard Boo Buie hit six of those 3s and went off for 27 points as he got wherever he wanted on the court against Nebraska’s defense.

“We did not compete into the ball and our ball screen defense, our ball pressure was was very poor,” Hoiberg said. “They were just way too comfortable. They hit 10 3s in the first half and it just spiraled downhill. We tried three of our coverages in the pick-and-roll; none of them worked because we didn’t give enough effort. If you don’t give effort, it doesn’t matter what your coverage is, what your schemes are, you’re not going to have a chance to be successful.”

Northwestern (12-13, 5-11 Big Ten) followed up its win in Lincoln with a victory over Indiana in Evanston, but the Wildcats have lost three in a row since including a 77-60 road loss to a Minnesota team playing without its second-leading scorer in Payton Willis. It was just the second double-digit loss of the season for Northwestern.

Buie and stretch-big Pete Nance combine to average just shy of 30 points. Nance is the top volume shooter on the team at 41.3% while Buie is shooting 34.6% on 6.2 attempts per game while dishing out 4.5 assists per game. 

The Wildcats are 88th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency on the strength of their ball security as they turn the ball over on just 13.8% of their possessions, sixth in the country. Defensively, the Wildcats are strong with the 59th-ranked adjusted efficiency. They’ve been susceptible to perimeter shooting this season (teams are shooting 36% against them, good for a defensive ranking of 292 nationally).

On Monday, Bryce McGowens captured his fourth straight Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor. It’s his seventh award of the season, moving him into a tie for second-most since the inceptions award. He’s trailing only Ohio State standout Jared Sullinger’s 12.

McGowens scored 25 points while going 14-for-15 from the foul line against Maryland last week, moving him into second place on Nebraska’s freshman scoring list. He’s scored 25 or more four times now this season and is averaging 16.8 points.

Tipoff at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Tuesday is set for 7 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network with Dave Revsine and Stephen Bardo.

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