Fred Hoiberg promised a tough week of practice after Nebraska’s disappointing second half in Saturday’s loss to Penn State, and that’s exactly what the Huskers got this week with a full six days between games.
“We had a good week of preparation and practice,” senior guard Haanif Cheatham said on Friday. “The intensity’s been high. The coaches have been on us heavy and I think that’s what we need right now. We’re going through a really tough stretch.”
Nebraska battled a tough Penn State team in the first 20 minutes and went into the locker room facing a five-point deficit. Then the Nittany Lions ran Nebraska off the floor in the second half, outscoring the Huskers 30-11 before Hoiberg started to go deeper into his bench to close out the game.
“I’ve been pleased with practice,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve come in and really competed and that was the goal this week after what happened in the second half against Penn State. Going back and watching that, we gave ourselves an opportunity with the first half … We did a lot of good things in the first half, especially early. The second half was, I thought, our worst performance of the year as far as an effort standpoint, going back and hanging our heads. So I tried to put them in some adverse situations and get after it and compete a a high level and I thought our guys did that.”
Nebraska has gone through stretches like the first 13 minutes of the second half against the Nittany Lions in each game of this seven-game losing streak. The message from Hoiberg continues to be putting together a full 40-minute effort.
“Knowing that the rest of the season’s not over, we’ve still got a lot of big games left and it starts here,” Cheatham said. “It starts with us, it starts with the coaching staff and I think this whole week’s been high-intensity, high-level and I think it’s preparing us for tomorrow night.”
Cheatham said competition — and a little bit of trash talking — has been a big part of the raised level of intensity in practice this week. Hoiberg said that despite the losing and some poor body language within the games, he hasn’t seen any signs of the Huskers giving up on this season as a whole.
“I’ve been pleased with the way our guys have come in and work, especially through a very difficult stretch where we’ve lost seven games in a row,” Hoiberg said. “You don’t always have that. Guys come in and they start counting down the days to the end of the season but our guys have continued to come in and work, they’ve been attentive in film sessions, they’ve taken the criticism well and they’ve carried it over on the practice. court. Now it’s just a matter of going out and playing a compete 40-minute game. We’ve had very good stretches of basketball, but when we let our guard down or don’t get back in transition for a couple possessions or try to challenge a big at the rim, that’s what starts runs. We have to play perfect for 40 minutes to have a chance.”
Nebraska got close to putting together a 40-minute performance against Iowa (16-7, 7-5 Big Ten) when the two teams played each other in Lincoln back on Jan. 7 and the result was a 76-70 win. Nebraska hasn’t won since.
Now the Huskers (7-15, 2-9) will have to try to replicate that performance in Iowa City as the Huskers head to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a Saturday evening tipoff.
In round one, Nebraska packed the paint against Iowa’s 6-foot-11, 255-pound center, Luka Garza and dared the Hawkeyes to beat them outside. Garza still had 16 points and 18 rebounds, but he was 7-of-15 from the field with just three free-throw attempts and Iowa shot a frigid 4-of-33 (12.1%) from 3.
“Knowing our personnel, who we’re guarding, who we’re playing against, I think that was big-time for us,” Cheatham said about the defensive performance. “I think it’s going to be the same thing tomorrow night. They’ve got a really good big man down low and I think when we packed the paint against them last time, it helped us out a lot so I think if we continue to do that tomorrow night we’ll be fine.”
Nebraska’s lack of size and rim protection means the Huskers have been using that pack-the-paint strategy all season, but it’s especially important against Garza, a likely first-team All-American and player of the year candidate.
“The way we’re built right now, we really have to try to pack it in and help in the paint and try to have late contests on the perimeter,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we did a really good job of executing that the first time we played against Iowa. They missed some shots, there’s no doubt about that, but Luka Garza in my opinion is the best big in the country right now so we have to do everything we can to try to slow him down. I thought we did a great job and he still had 18 and 16. He’s a heck of a player and we’re going to have to try to do the best job we can to keep him off balance.”
Selling out to slow down Garza will be a bit more difficult this time around, however. Redshirt freshman guard CJ Fredrick, the Big Ten’s top 3-point shooter at 48.2%, did not play in the first game but is healthier now. He’s hit at least two 3-pointers in seven straight games and is third on the team in scoring at 11.5 points per game.
“Fredrick can really shoot the ball,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a heck of a player for a young player in this league. The percentages he’s shooting as a freshman are pretty impressive. Garza attracts so much attention that it’s going to open up shots for their perimeter guys and he’s done a great job of knocking them down.”
Joe Wieskamp, Iowa’s second-leading scorer at 14.8 points per game, is unlikely to go 1-for-10 from 3 like he did in the first game against Nebraska. He still put up 21 points but it took him 23 field goal attempts to do it. Wieskamp saw his streak of double-digit games come to an end at 13 on Wednesday after he scored just eight points in Iowa’s 104-68 shellacking at Purdue. Garza put up 26 points but no other Hawkeye scored more than eight and the Boilermakers shot 19-of-34 from 3.
Tipoff on Saturday is set for 5 p.m. CT on BTN with Kevin Kugler and Stephen Bardo on the call.
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.