After two rough losses to open the season, Nebraska finally put one up in the win column last Friday against South Dakota State, and Coach Fred Hoiberg said he’s seen a difference in practice this week.
“Sometimes getting that first one is something that you can build on obviously from a confidence standpoint,” Hoiberg said. “Guys have had great energy in the gym. I’ve seen smiles on faces for the first time in a while and that’s when our guys go out and play best. When you go out there and you think and you worry about where that next shot is coming from, things have a tendency of going the wrong way but when you go out and play with confidence and fly around and play with great effort, good things tend to happen.
“It was a good week for us, a good week of practice. I do think it’s a team that has more confidence based on getting that win and getting it behind us. Hopefully we can have a great week ahead of us starting with tomorrow and play with great effort coming right out of the gate and hopefully continuing to build some momentum.”
Junior guard Jervay Green said the players have been having “way more fun” this week.
“Winning is always good and we plan on continuing to win,” Green said. “We feel like a lot of pressure’s off. We got the first one so now we’re just ready to go out and show what else we can do.”
After playing one game in a 12-day span, the Huskers are preparing for a stretch of four games in six days starting with Saturday’s home game against Southern. Hoiberg said that doesn’t change how he’s getting his team ready to play, however.
“I guess the last two weeks we’ve had two games so it’s been more like a football schedule the way we’ve managed our team,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got a tough schedule coming up starting tomorrow. This team plays extremely hard. New Mexico State is the No. 1 seed in the Cayman tournament and it was a two-possession game under three minutes. So they’re a team that’s going to come in here and do a lot of different things. We have to come out ready to go and play hard for 40 minutes and then worry about the next step. It’s just one day at a time, game at a time, one possession at a time and hopefully we continue to get better.”
Pace is the foundation of Fred Hoiberg’s offense, and through three games the Huskers are 24th in the country at just under 80 possessions per game. The Huskers have been effective when they’ve created fast break opportunities, but they’re not where Hoiberg wants them to be yet.
“We’re showing flashes,” Hoiberg said. “Certainly that first 20 minutes the other night against South Dakota State was exactly how we’d like it to be for 40 minutes, but it’s something to work on as far as getting out, throwing the ball ahead. When we can get deflections and get that ball off the rim as opposed to taking it out of the net, good things tend to happen. When we threw it ahead we were very efficient in our offense the other night against South Dakota State, but we need to sustain that and have 40 minutes of it. Understand what is giving us an opportunity to be successful on the offensive end and the more easy baskets we can get obviously that builds confidence.”
As for the spacing part of that space-and-pace style, Nebraska has really struggled from the 3-point line. The Huskers are shooting 23.1%, good for 343rd in the country. Nebraska has shot 6-of-26, 5-of-26 and 7-of-26 in its first three games, though there were signs of improvement against South Dakota State as the Huskers hit five triples in the first half.
“We didn’t shoot the ball better from 3 but we hit three of them right on the line,” Hoiberg continued. “Those three go in and we actually shoot a pretty decent percentage. So it’s just continuing to go out and build the right habits. Whether things are going great or you’re going through a tough time, you have to be constant in your approach.”
One of the guys who Nebraska was counting on to hit shots at a high rate this season is graduate transfer Matej Kavas, a 6-foot-8 forward who shot nearly 45% from 3 during his three seasons at Seattle. After an 0-of-4 outing against the Jackrabbits, he is 2-of-9 at Nebraska.
“I’ve seen him have a 7-for-10 day in practice from 3,” Hoiberg said. “Yesterday he was 6-of-7 from 3. Matej in my opinion is just one game of seeing that ball go in the hoop from getting him to take off. He’s playing really well in practice. We need to continue to try to find him to get him going. We ran a couple plays ATO (after a timeout) to try to get him shots. But this is a guy who’s gone through plenty of struggles in his life. Sometimes it just takes that one game of seeing the ball go through that hoop to get you going.”
Green is another guy who has struggled more than expected. He shot 38% from deep on high volume as a sophomore at Western Nebraska Community College but is 3-of-16 at Nebraska. Green said he isn't totally sure about the source of his struggles but he’s focusing on improving his consistency to help himself break out of his slump.
“I come in practice and hit and then I get in a game and I don’t know what’s going on, to be honest,” Green said. “I don’t know if it’s nerves or whatever. But just consistency, bringing it from practice to the games, and for sure my form; JUCO it was a little high-arcing so I’m trying to work on getting it back to that because in JUCO I was shooting it very well. But it just takes time.”
Green said the pace and the physical strength of the players he’s going up agains have been the biggest adjustments he’s had to deal with so far early in the season. Despite the shooting (he’s 8-of-18 inside the arc as well), Hoiberg has been pleased with how Green has been playing overall while he makes that leap to the Division I level.
“I think Jervay’s doing really well,” Hoiberg said. “He had 18 shot attempts in the game against Southern Utah and didn’t get as many the other night but I thought he did a lot of other things well. His defensive intensity was off the charts. He had a big possession where he got a deflection denying the ball in and Cam got it and threw ahead to him. But he can impact the game in a lot of different ways. He’s a guy that can rebound. We’re asking him to play a spot he’s probably never played before; he’s playing the four position for us. But he’s very versatile, especially on the defensive end. He’s an athletic kid, he can get downhill with the ball and into the paint. I think he’s really adjusted well.”
Southern is 2-2 so far his season with losses to Murray State and New Mexico State. The Jaguars only trailed the Aggies by five at halftime before New Mexico State pulled away for a 16-point win. The Southern bench outscored the starters 38-25 in that game led by 25 between guards Micah Bradford and Montese Blake.
Friday's game is the U.S. Marines Corps' annual Toys for Tots drive and fans are encouraged to bring new, unwrapped toys to the game. Cash donations will also be accepted with collection spots located at Pinnacle Bank Arena entrances.
Tipoff at Pinnacle Bank Arena is set for 7 p.m. on BTN+ for subscribers or on the Husker Sports Network radio 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.