On Sunday night, the Huskers (12-17, 6-11) will host Michigan (19-11, 9-8) in the final regular season game in college basketball, and that also means it will be senior guard Tai Webster’s final game at Pinnacle Bank Arena. However, that reality still hasn’t hit Webster as the game holds plenty of meaning in terms of Big Ten Tournament seeding.
“I’m still really locked in on the game,” Webster said. “It’s such an important game. It’s kind of getting overshadowed as my last game at Nebraska, at PBA, but the game means so much to us for the Big Ten Tournament, that’s all my focus is on right now.”
With Indiana’s 96-92 win against Ohio State on Saturday, the Huskers can avoid the play-in round and secure the No. 10 seed in the Big Ten Tournament with a win over Michigan, and Webster said that fact gave the Huskers a little extra boost in practice.
“We showed them the scenarios on winning and losing, and certainly the opportunity to be a 10-seed playing Iowa as opposed to the 12-seed playing Penn State is more attractive because you get the day off,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Michigan is playing really great basketball so we just have to worry about what we have in front of us.”
In order to pull off the win, the Huskers are going to need a better performance from Webster than they got in Nebraska’s 88-73 loss at Minnesota on Thursday where he finished with 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting with five turnovers.
“I don’t think he played well against Minnesota,” Miles said. “I would expect him to bounce back. I met with him and said ‘You’ve got a responsibility to bounce back; we need you. We put you in the center of every big defensive play and every big offensive play, and we need you to rise to the occasion.’ That’s what I expect Tai to do.”
In order to better match up with Michigan’s sharp-shooting frontcourt, Miles said he is going to adjust his starting lineup.
“Just because of the pick-and-pop situation, we’re going to give Ed Morrow the starting spot at center and bring Jordy [Tshimanga] off the bench,” Miles said.
In Nebraska’s 85-81 loss at Michigan on Jan. 14, sophomore big man Moritz Wagner scored 23 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range. As a team, the Wolverines shot 11-of-22 from deep. Miles is expecting Morrow – who didn’t play in the previous meeting – to give the Huskers a little extra scoring punch inside, but he said defense will be the key to getting a win/
“Offensively, I think we can expect more action in the paint, although we did all right in the paint [last game],” Miles said. “But we have to get them under control. Their actions have been troublesome. We’re a pack[-line] defensive team and those five-out teams have hurt us. So how we get Wagner and their screen-and-roll and everything squared away – he’s really a terrific player.”
Senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. lit the Huskers up in the previous meeting as well with 20 points on 5-of-6 shooting and Miles said he has seen a shift in Walton’s recent play.
“I just think his aggressiveness has been really good; he’s on the attack all the time, he’s driving it really well, he’s making outside shots, he’s getting fouled, he’s good in transition creating for others and himself,” Miles said. “He was a little more passive maybe, kind of like an all-around point guard before, where I think he’s pressing the issue and putting more pressure on defense; he’s kind of looking for himself first and others second it seems like to me and it’s working well for him.”
In order to snap their three-game losing streak and pick up some momentum heading into the postseason, Miles said the Huskers will have to improve in all facets of the game.
“We have to defend better and we have to run better offense,” Miles said. “One thing we’re going to try to do obviously is run harder. I thought we did a better job of pushing the ball against Minnesota. Minnesota really hurt us inside, and then we go zone and they go 3-out-of-5 on 3s and hadn’t made a 3 all game. With Michigan, it’s a little bit different. We have to be able to score in the paint, we have to be able to score in transition – drink from the cup of easy baskets. The one thing we couldn’t do against Minnesota, unfortunately, was get to the foul line and that really hurt us. The last time we played Michigan we didn’t get to the foul line and they got there a ton. That’s got to flip. We have to get to the foul line as much as they do.”
The Senior Night ceremony for Webster is set to begin at 6:45 p.m. on Sunday with tip-off to follow around 7 p.m. on BTN. Kevin Kugler and Shon Morris will be on the call.