LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska has made short work of its first two over-matched opponents this season, but a tougher test is coming to Lincoln on Saturday as Louisiana Tech will face the Huskers at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“We’re actually pretty excited …. We’ll just figure out what kind of team we really have and it’s just probably one of our better games this season,” sophomore forward Ed Morrow Jr. said. “I think we’re just excited overall, everybody.”
In addition to the game on Saturday night, the Huskers will be honoring the 1996 NIT championship team at halftime.
“It’s an exciting weekend for a lot of reasons,” head coach Tim Miles said. “One, we have a great opponent coming in in my eyes – Louisiana Tech, who’s got a real chance to win Conference USA. That’s a bona fide, when we look at talking about games that you play at home that you have to win against a team that is going to win a lot of games. I think it’s going to tell us a lot about where our team’s development is at this point in time. Second of all, we have that 1996 NIT championship team in, so we’ll have some excellent players back with strong connections … I think that that will be good for our guys to be around those guys too so that makes for an exciting weekend for me.”
The Bulldogs went 23-10 last year and return two double-digit scorers including preseason All-Conference USA forward Erik McCree. Louisiana Tech will display a different style of play than what the Huskers have seen so far this season.
“Their athleticism is tremendous,” Miles said. “They really put a lot of pressure on the ball. Their front line defense in terms of the next pass and on the ball are terrific. They can do it 94 feet. It will really be a great challenge for us, and that’s what you want. You have to be able to go against all styles of play because you never know what the circumstance of the game is. You get ahead of Ohio State late and they’re going to pressure you the same way; we’ve seen that before. It will be a good test of how we can handle pressure and how we can defend their athleticism. They’ve got tremendous athleticism. They are either at the rim or they’re shooting 3s. They’re fast down the floor, so conversion defense is going to be a big deal. It will be a great test.”
Morrow agreed that Louisiana Tech will be a measuring stick for the Huskers. After playing two division II teams and one Big Sky team so far this season, the Bulldogs will be a lot closer to the level of competition the Huskers will see as the season rolls on.
“You could look at it as preparation for the games to come,” Morrow said. “We’re just excited for it. We’ve been preparing for it all summer, coming into the preseason and stuff like that. At this point, we just want to get out there and show what we’ve been working on.”
Miles is anticipating more than a minor step-up in competition on Saturday night.
“I would say it’s a huge step forward, I wouldn’t say it’s a natural progression … We have just jumped off the cliff of progression,” Riley said. “We’re going to throw these guys into the boiling hot water and see what happens.”
Sophomore point guard Glynn Watson Jr. is leading the Big Ten in assist percentage and is in the top five in lowest turnover percentage with just one turnover so far, but Louisiana Tech’s aggressive defense will test his ball security.
“Louisiana Tech turns you over almost 25 percent of the time you have the ball, which is an extraordinary amount of times,” Miles said. “That is an M.O. for them. So for Glynn to go against that, and for our wings – it’s not just Glynn delivering it, it’s those guys getting open and getting separation, those guys making the proper cuts when it’s time. So I think it will be a good test for all of our team. That turnover’s not always on Glynn; that assist isn’t always just because of Glynn either. I think it will say a lot about our team. I’ve been very impressed with Glynn Watson. I think he’s taken another step up. He’s stronger and more confident. He’s done a nice job for us.”
After 16 of the Huskers’ 27 first-half field goals against the University of Mary were 3-pointers, Miles is hoping to see better shot-selection and offensive balance from his team against the Bulldogs.
“I think you take what the defense gives you,” Miles said. “I didn’t think that our decision-making was great against the University of Mary. I thought we took a lot of quick outside shots and then we also forced the issue too early on offense and turned it over, the same thing we did against Sacramento State when we were on the inside missing 12 layups. We’ve got improvement, but I think if you look at the core talent and the youth of that talent, they’re only going to get better and better and that’s the exciting part about these guys.”
Tip-off at Pinnacle Bank Arena is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be available on ESPN3.