At the 12-minute mark of Nebraska’s loss to No. 21 Wisconsin on Wednesday, the Huskers held a 20-14 lead.
Nebraska assisted on each of its first eight field goals and hit its first four 3-point attempts. Fred Hoiberg said that’s exactly what it’s supposed to look like and what they’ve been stressing the last several days.
The Huskers couldn’t sustain it, though, as Wisconsin outscored Nebraska 47-28 over the final 32 minutes. What happened? I took a closer look at the first half to find out.
To start things off, Derrick Walker played a big part in that opening run even if he didn’t attempt a field goal in the game. His experience and feel allows Nebraska to run offense through him a bit more than with Yvan Ouedraogo.
On Nebraska’s first possession, four different guys touched the ball as the Huskers went into a bit of a dribble-weave to get the offense started before entering the ball to Walker popping up near the top of the key. Dalano Banton faked going for the handoff then back-cut instead and Walker hit him with a nice pass for a layup.
Nebraska ran a similar action on its second possession but the defenders stayed attached after the high-post entry and Walker eventually kicked it out to Teddy Allen for an ISO. He took a contested floater with 12 on the shot clock that missed.
On the next play, Allen pushed the ball up the floor off a long rebound and got a piece of the paint. This time, however, he had his eyes open and kicked it back to Lat Mayen for a trailer 3 that he buried.
Nebraska’s fourth possession went nowhere initially so Banton called for Walker to set a screen and roll. Banton left his feet with nowhere to go, however, and ended up passing to a Badger for a turnover. Two good possessions, two bad ones to start.
Nebraska ran a Horns set on its next possession, entering the ball to Walker who passed it across to Allen then followed his pass to set a screen. Allen curled off the screen and got downhill, kicking it out to Mayen in the corner. The defender closed out quickly and Mayen put the ball on the deck, but Nate Reuvers was waiting at the rim. Mayen took a runner over Reuvers and missed. It wasn’t necessarily a layup, but it’s a shot that high-major basketball players should be able to make. Decent possession, no points.
Allen attacked a closeout on the next play and turned the ball over trying to get too fancy with it.
The seventh possession was the same as the first — a high post entry and back-cut, this time for a Mayen layup.
On the next play, Nebraska ran a pick-and-roll early that went nowhere, so Allen gave the ball up to Trey McGowens at the top of the kay. McGowens attacked his man and Walker set a screen for Allen to flare out to the corner. McGowens hit him and Allen buried the 3.
Nebraska’s ninth possession started with the dribble weave into the high post touch. Instead of the cut, McGowens took the handoff and curled into the lane. He settled for a free-throw line pull-up with 18 on the shot clock that wasn’t close.
The next time down, Allen tried to isolate again and it ended in another contested floater in the lane. Back-to-back bad possessions which allowed the Badgers to pull ahead with a 7-0 run.
The Huskers got back on track with one of their best possessions of the game on the next play, however. All five players touched the ball and nine passes led to three points. Nebraska moved the ball early and got into the dribble-weave to high post touch. Walker gave the ball up to Banton from there and went to set a screen but Banton refused it and drove baseline, kicking across to the corner. The Huskers swung the ball around the area, Walker set another flare screen for Allen. He caught the ball, sized it up and buried the triple.
Banton got tunnel vision after a Wisconsin turnover on the next play, running over Brad Davison for a charge even though Allen was wide open in the corner.
Nebraska moved the ball a few times before setting up a pick-and-roll with Banton and freshman Eduardo Andre, who had just checked in for Walker, and Banton hit him on the roll for a layup.
On Nebraska’s 14th possession, the Huskers ran a double screen with Mayen and Andre and Mayen slipped to the rim for a dunk off a Banton feed.
Mayen capped Nebraska’s 10-0 run with a transition catch-and-shoot 3 as Banton brought the ball up the floor with his eyes open and Mayen ran parallel to him across the court. Wisconsin took a timeout as Nebraska pulled ahead 20-14.
That’s when things started to go off the rails. On Nebraska’s first two possessions out of the timeout the Huskers ran some decent actions and got quality 3-point looks that didn’t fall. The Huskers got McGowens to the free-throw line on a baseline out-of-bounds play on the next possession to take their biggest lead at 22-14.
I thought Nebraska got decent looks on just five of its last 18 possessions. Allen and Banton were the guys most at fault, but McGowens, Stevenson, Mayen and Thorir Thorbjarnarson also had bad reps in there. Nebraska had eight turnovers that were a case of bad decision-making or sloppiness. There was one near-shot clock violation and four difficult shots, only one of which went down.
Nebraska wasn’t perfect during the start, but they mixed in more than enough positive plays and some tough defense to allow the Huskers to take an eight-point lead. Guys made good decisions, worked together on and off the ball and knocked down shots.
When shots stopped falling, the teamwork stopped as well, and guys started to force things. That’s what Hoiberg has to try to prevent from happening.
“It’s got to come to a point where it clicks,” Hoiberg said after the game. “I’ve never been a guy to slow it down and stop and run an action every time down. I love the flow when the defense is disorganized getting back into the play and trying to get something accomplished early in the possession. But right now we’re just not making good enough decisions when those opportunities present themselves. I hate to throw up a stop sign and get into something every play, but that’s probably what it’s going to have to come to for a while until we can figure out our turnovers. And it’s not just the turnovers, it’s the going in and throwing up crazy shots and expecting to get the call. We’re not getting them.
“We just have to find a way to trust better; keep the movement and good things happen. Whether you make the shot or not, we’re getting good looks when we move the ball. We just didn’t do that for a long enough stretch. It’s the whole thing when we’re out there in the flow and things are going well, you have to continue on with those things that are getting you good, solid possessions. We just lose value of the ball and lose value of the possession. Bad shots lead to good offense for the other team.”
Valuing the ball and generating good possessions is going to be an even bigger factor on Friday night as the Huskers take on a top-10 opponent in No. 6 Illinois which is scoring close to 80 points per game in Big Ten play.
Junior guard Ayo Dosunmu leads the way at 21.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists while Kofi Cockburn, a 7-foot, 285-pound sophomore, controls the paint at 17.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. As a team, the Illini are shooting 37% from 3 in Big Ten play.
“I watched the Illinois and Wisconsin game, and they’re really good,” Hoiberg said. “I haven’t obviously had a chance to put a lot of time into them just because we’ve had games right on top of each other here. They’ll pressure us; we have to do a much better job of taking care of the ball. We have to be selective at the rim on Kofi; he’s the biggest presence in this league. He’s phenomenal in there and he’s playing incredible basketball. Ayo is as talented a guard as we have in our league and then they shoot the heck out of the ball. Their percentages are crazy. It’s one of those things where we have to be in there shrunk, trying to help on the post and then we have to have good rotations and try to contest their shooters. It’s going to be a tough game on a short prep.”
Tipoff at Pinnacle Bank Arena is set for 8 p.m. Friday night on Big Ten Network. After that, the Huskers will head east for an extended road trip. After their game at Penn State on Sunday Nebraska will head to Maryland for a pair of games on back-to-back nights. The Huskers were already scheduled to face the Terrapins on Wednesday, but the Big Ten added a second game on Tuesday to make up for the Huskers missing their home game against Maryland during their pause on team activities.
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.