Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Patience, Physicality Key as Huskers Prep for Game Plan at Wisconsin

January 21, 2020

Nebraska has lost three straight and four of its last five, and in each of those losses the opponent went for the knockout blow with a big run. In each of the last three losses, Nebraska got back up off the mat but fell short in its comeback attempts.

Nebraska has hemorrhaged points during those runs, but the problems started on offense.

“As good as we’ve been at taking care of the ball, there have been stretches where teams go on runs on us where we don’t take care of it, we take a bad shot or we’ll take a contested shot at the rim and we’re getting our shot blocked way too much right now,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “That has led to either a run-out or we’ll fall down as we go in there and they’re going down five-on-four and they’re taking advantage of their numbers. 

“That’s what I’ve seen: bad offense has led to some of those runs, that and we’ll try to chase a rebound when things aren’t going well, not doing the things we’re supposed to do, and teams are too good in this league and they take advantage of you when they have numbers.”

In Nebraska’s 82-74 loss to Indiana on Saturday, Hoiberg said the Huskers moved the ball well and hit some shots in the first half, but the team got impatient and careless when things started to turn.

The Huskers have gotten to the rim almost as much as anyone in the Big Ten this season, but they’re finishing worse than every other team by a significant margin. Too many just plain missed bunnies aside, Hoiberg said a lot of their struggles have come from impatience or tunnel vision as opposed to reading the defense and making the right play.

“We want to continue to try to create long closeouts, whether it’s a shot opportunity or you attack a long closeout and it’s a chain reaction, then you hopefully suck in the defense and you get the next long closeout and you give the next guy an opportunity to either get a shot or attack,” Hoiberg said. “It’s when we try to go in when the defense sucks in and shoot a contested shot against a 7-footer where we’re playing against very physical players and a lot of length.”

Showing improvement in that area will be key for the Huskers on Tuesday as they take on Wisconsin in Madison. The Badgers are 11-7 overall including 4-3 in Big Ten play, and they haven’t exactly played a lot of pretty basketball. The Badgers are averaging 64.1 points and holding teams to 62.0 in conference play.

“It’s a very unique game plan,” Hoiberg said. “They invert the floor a lot, they post up their guards, they run their system which has been very successful for them. We’ve got to be prepared to guard anybody at any time in the post, guards, bigs. Then obviously they can shoot it at all five positions. With [Micah] Potter becoming eligible here basically as conference play started, he’s added a whole new element to that team with his skill set.”

Potter, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound transfer from Ohio State, had his waiver denied by the NCAA and had to sit out the first semester. Potter’s played in eight games total, and in five Big Ten games he’s averaging 11.8 points and 6.6 rebounds. Junior forward Nate Reuvers (6-foot-11, 240 pounds) is the team’s leading scorer on the year at 14.2 points per game. Both players are capable of knocking down shots from the perimeter as Reuvers is shooting 36% on 3.6 attempts per game in Big Ten play while Potter is at 53.8% on 2.6 attempts per game.

“It’s a great challenge,” freshman center Yvan Ouedraogo said. “They’re two great players; one can shoot more than the other one. That’s a great challenge; it’s going to push us, especially Kevin [Cross] and me to play better defense, to be focused on closing to the 3-point line and stuff like that.”

Sophomore guard Kobe King is leading the Badgers at 14.9 points per game in league play and is second overall this season while doing most of his damage from mid-range and in. Junior point guard D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin’s second-leading scorer last year, has struggled this season and is averaging less than nine points per game overall including 4.6 in Big Ten play.

“We’re going to have to be really sharp going out there,” Hoiberg said. “They set a ton of screens trying to get different guys into the post. We’re going to have to go out and hopefully do a good job of being physical and slowing them down and and not allowing offensive rebounds where we have to defend through the clock maybe for a second possession. It’s an important game to hopefully go out and get off to a good start.”

Wisconsin is one of the slowest teams in the Big Ten, and the one thing besides free-throw shooting the Badgers do well on offense is taking care of the ball. Nebraska’s not going to have many opportunities to get out in the open floor, and when those opportunities do arise the Huskers will have to take advantage.

“It’s going to take getting stops,” Hoiberg said. “They’re so good at getting back, they don’t give you anything easy. They’re as good not only as any team in the league but any team in that country at making you work for everything you get. They get back in transition, they’re packed in in the paint, they swarm the ball, so we’re going to have to make simple plays. We’re not going to be able to get in there in the gaps like you can against certain teams. Tempo is important in a game like this.”

Tipoff at the Kohl Center is set for 8 p.m. on Tuesday on BTN with Dave Revsine and Robbie Hummel on the call.

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