Wednesday’s 74-72 loss at Maryland left a bad taste in the mouths of Tim Miles’ Cornhuskers.
In fact, junior forward Isaiah Roby said he couldn’t even sleep on the plane on the flight home, nor could he fall asleep when he got home. Roby was up until 6 a.m. Thursday morning thinking about the game and what he could have done differently to change the result. During the film study session on Friday, Roby said a normally talkative Glynn Watson Jr. had nothing to say because of his frustration.
“We don’t like losing,” Roby said. “Obviously nobody likes to lose, but when you lose a game you know you should win, that hurts even more.”
Roby said this loss felt different than their previous two — an 18-point defeat against Texas Tech and another close loss to Minnesota where the Huskers gave up the lead late.
“I think the coaches have more of a sense of urgency after this one,” Roby said. “We had a lot more disappointment in this one, even though the Minnesota game we kind of gave away worse than this last game but we just feel like we’re not playing up to our standards as a team and the coaches are raising our standards even more now. We’ve just got to be ready for the next game.”
The Huskers are now 11-3 on the year, but only 1-2 in Big Ten play, but Roby knows all too well that how a team starts has little bearing on how the rest of league play will go.
“My freshman year we started out really hot and were not good the rest of the year,” Roby said. “I think we started out 3-0 with two big road wins and then our season went downhill from there. This year is totally different; we started 1-2 so it can only go uphill from here, I think.”
Roby identified two key areas that hurt the Huskers in both of their Big Ten losses: defense and rebounding.
“They pulled up some defensive numbers and I think we’re last in the conference in 3-point percentage defense,” Roby said. “That’s something that we’ve made a focus and we’re not doing it, we’re not executing right. That’s the biggest thing they’re disappointed about.
“We’re not playing aggressive enough defensively. We’re kind of relaxing off the ball, we’re not playing five as one. We’ve got to just be engaged every play. When we build leads on the road, we can’t get complacent. We have to keep competing every play.”
Miles said the Huskers have had two good practices as they get ready for their third Big Ten road game in a row with Iowa waiting on Sunday.
“I thought the last two practices were solid, today probably better than yesterday, so that was good,” Miles said. “I’m glad. We need to be really good against Iowa. It’s difficult winning on the road in any league, but in the Big Ten for sure and Iowa’s proven to be a very good home team.”
Iowa swept its nonconference slate but has gotten off to a 0-3 start in the Big Ten after a 16-point loss to Purdue on Thursday.
“I believe in our guys and I believe our guys are going to perform well, but it’s going to be a very difficult environment,” Miles said. “Iowa’s in the same position we are where you’ve dropped a couple and now you really need to make a play to move forward. So we’re going to see kind of a monster too in Iowa. I know Coach [Fran] McCaffery and I respect him a great deal. They’re so hard to guard; I think they’ve scored about 80 on us every time, so we’re going to have to do a great job defensively. I’m just focusing on our defensive effort right now.”
The Hawkeyes are averaging over 82 points this season and are second in the country in free throws, which makes them a tough draw for a thin Nebraska team playing its starters heavy minutes.
“They’re very physical and aggressive and they’ve got a lot of size and they’v got some craft players too,” Miles said. “Connor McCaffery is probably one of the best at it … We just have to play as good of defense as we can and try to play hard without fouling.”
That will be tough to do with Iowa’s star power forward Tyler Cook. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound junior is a load in the paint, leading the Hawkeyes with 17.4 points on nearly 60-percent shooting and 7.2 free throw attempts per game. The Huskers just gave up 18 points and 17 rebounds to Maryland center Bruno Fernando on Wednesday.
“You’ve got to do your work early,” Roby said. “He’s a beast so you’ve got to make sure you can’t let him get the ball where he wants it. We saw a lot on film and just watching them, they love to duck it in and they’re going to give him the ball right by the hoop so we’ve got to just do our work early and fight as much as we can.”
Cook’s frontcourt partner, 6-foot-11, 245-pound sophomore Luka Garza, has missed the last couple of games with an ankle injury and is a game-time decision. He's second on the team in scoring and has the ability to step out and knock down jumpers from the perimeter.
For the Huskers, Miles said freshman guard Amir Harris is progressing “slowly” as he recovers from a bout with mono.
“I’d say he’s still some time out from being on the floor,” Miles said.
Miles said he’s looking forward to the game against Nebraska’s neighbor in the Big Ten.
“I think it will be a great game,” Miles said. “Nebraska and Iowa. I know when I’m at the Big Ten meetings, I say I’d like to play our border schools on occasion, so going to 20 league games allows us to play them more and I think that’s really good because you want a little bit of vigor, a little bit of all that stuff with your neighbors. And I don’t have any intention to be State Farm; I don’t want to be a good neighbor, I want to whip ‘em.”
Tipoff on Sunday is set for 4:30 p.m. CST with Kevin Kugler and Shon Morris on the call.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.