Photo Credit: John Peterson

Huskers Hoping to Get McGowens Back as They Head to the Big Ten Tournament

March 09, 2022

While Bryce McGowens received postseason recognition from the Big Ten on Tuesday, his actual participation in the postseason for the Huskers is still up in the air.

The freshman wing missed Nebraska’s regular season finale at No. 10 Wisconsin after suffering a wrist injury during a hard foul against Ohio State on March 1. Coach Fred Hoiberg said McGowens got some shots up and went through the non-contact portion of practice on Tuesday.

“I just really wanted to test that thing to see how he’s doing,” Hoiberg said. “It’s going to be tough to throw him out there full speed without getting some live work in. So we were able to get him out there a little bit but he did not participate the full practice.”

Hoiberg said he hopes McGowens will be able to play in Nebraska’s Big Ten Tournament opener against Northwestern on Wednesday evening. The plan was to get him more treatment Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and then see how the wrist is feeling during the team’s walk-through at their hotel ahead of the 5 p.m. CT tipoff. 

Alonzo Verge Jr. said McGowens being back in the lineup would give them a “10-times better” chance to win, but the Huskers did show against Wisconsin that they capable of knocking off off a good team without him.

The Huskers’ three-game winning streak to close out the regular season vaulted the them over Minnesota in the conference standings thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker, meaning Nebraska is the No. 13 seed and will face No. 12 Northwestern. Even more important was the confidence the wins gave them and the impact that has had in the locker room as teams throw out the records and prepare for the win-or-go home et-up in Indianapolis.

“Really, it’s all it’s all or nothing, man,” Verge said. “We have a very positive energy in the locker room right now. Everybody’s positive. We’re going in there feeling like we can win this thing … The taste of victory, it’s contagious. Once you feel it, and you see it’s actually possible and it’s right in front of you, you actually want to go get it again. And that’s what we wanted to do, man.”

Both Verge and Derrick Walker said the team’s newfound success is a little bittersweet because of the missed opportunity, but they’re focused on the task at hand and making the most of this opportunity to keep playing. After the win at Penn State, Hoiberg asked his team “Why not us?” During his postgame address, and ever since the players have been using it as their rallying cry.

“Why not us?” Walker said. “We’ve been shocking the world right now just with how we’ve been playing and I think a lot of teams are scared to play us right now, so why not us? Who’s to say we can’t go to the Big Ten and make a statement?”

To avoid a short stay in Indianapolis, the Huskers will have to do something they’ve already failed to do twice this season: beat the Wildcats. Northwestern blew out the Huskers 87-63 in Lincoln on Feb. 5 then won 77-65 in the return trip to Evanston on Feb. 22.

“Obviously it’s a team that we have struggled against and they pose a lot of different problems with the skill set of their of their players, especially their fives,” Hoiberg said. “Pete Nance is one of the more skilled, more versatile bigs not only in the league but in the country, and he’s really hurt us in the first two games. [Robbie] Beran really got it going in the last game against Minnesota where they were clicking on all cylinders. Boo Buie, his his ability to score at all three levels — really good mid-range, has got a great little floater from the free-throw line and you can certainly heat up from the 3-point line as well. And then they come off the bench with shooting and skill. So it’s a team that’s playing really well right now … and is obviously a team we’ve struggled with. So we’ve just got to go and get off to a good start, hopefully continue on with the confidence that we have generated over the last three or four games and just play a complete 40-minute game.”

Northwestern (14-15, 7-13 Big Ten) is currently 76th in KenPom — 105th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 48th on defense. In conference play only, however, the Wildcats are 12th in offense and sixth in defense among Big Ten teams. They’re dead last among Big Ten teams in 2-point percentage and 12th in 3-point percentage, though they’ve shot 41.3% from deep against the Huskers, knocking dow 13 triples in each meeting.

Walker said the Huskers (10-21, 4-16 Big Ten) will have to play with more physicality to take care of the defensive glass, and they’ll have to cut back on their mental errors on defense if they want to keep the Wildcats from lighting it up from deep again.

Senior forward Pete Nance (14.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, 49.4% from the field and 44.9% from 3) and junior point guard Boo Buie (14.1 points and 4.4 assists per game) lead the way for the Wildcats. Buie lit the Huskers up in the first game while Nance had a strong showing in the second. Senior guard Chase Audige is a capable scorer as well, averaging 10.3 points per game.

Fifth-seeded Iowa awaits the winner of Wednesday evening’s game between the Wildcats and Huskers.

Brandon Gaudin and Robbie Hummel will have the call of Nebraska and Northwestern on the Big Ten Network.

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