Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Basketball

3 Thoughts from Nebraska's 71-59 Loss to Illinois

February 24, 2020
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What a strange season. Nebraska has now lost 20 games in a single season for the first time in program history. The record is 7-20 following a 71-59 loss to Illinois on the road Monday night. 

Here are three thoughts.

The Weirdest Trend

Sometimes it just be like that.

Wisconsin’s Brad Davison hit a triple with 42 seconds left in the first half to send the Badgers to a one-point lead at the break. Michigan State’s Aaron Henry hit a triple with 18 seconds left in the first half to give the Spartans a three-point lead at the break.

Illinois—who, mind you, was 2-for-10 from beyond the arc for the first 19 minutes and 40 seconds of the first half Monday night—hit two triples in the last 20 seconds before halftime to go up six points.

Illinois guard Trent Frazier got his first points of the night on a triple with 20 seconds on the clock, then somehow managed to grab a rebound off a Husker miss, turn, and fire at the basket from a good 70 feet out in the span of about one second. The halftime buzzer going off was so close to the ball leaving Frazier’s fingertips the officials were never going to be able to overturn it.

So, Nebraska was down again at the half again. The Huskers have trailed at halftime in every game now of what has become a 12-game losing streak.

I can think of no more perfect play (or set of plays) to describe Nebraska’s season thus far. Kinda close but then so far away.

Sometimes you just have to laugh through the pain.

I would say there’s no way something like this keeps happening but statistical anomalies are kinda Nebraska’s thing.

Yvan’s Development

A positive! It has been rapid over the last few weeks. It really would incredible if you put on a game of him from early in the non-conference schedule and then a recent performance on a different screen, set the two side by side, kicked back with a cold Capri-Sun and just watched.

He’s started keeping the ball higher each time he gets it. Early on there was a tendency to catch and bring it down, maybe a power dribble for good measure, and then either a brick or a strip came next. His hands are getting better, his awareness around the rim is getting better, his aggressiveness is up.

Before, Ouedraogo would get the ball in the post and look around like he didn’t know what to do next. Over the last two or three games, we’ve seen him flash a few (basic) post moves that led to points in close. The young man is physically imposing enough to throw his body around and open up space if he really wanted to, he just wasn’t. Maybe it’s a comfort thing, maybe it’s a confidence thing.

Whatever it was, the freshman center now has back-to-back games where he’s scored at least 10 points for the first time in his career. Monday’s 11-point, 10-board performance was just the second double-double of his career.

He played 27 minutes to Kevin Cross’s 13. He only had one turnover, kept the fouls down, and had the best plus/minus of anyone on the team.

It seems like not that long ago when I wrote in this very space he was unplayable for stretches at a time. Seems like his move to the bench a few games back sparked something positive.

He’s been back in the starting lineup for the last two games and that’s probably not changing after this one.

A B-Dubs commercial

Nebraska was without its starting point guard, Cam Mack, so there was a reason right there to expect more of the same from Monday night’s action. “Same” being scrappy play, lots of heart and fight, but more losing.

That was, again, the case.

It’s nice to see Nebraska play with energy and enthusiasm and not throw in the towel when they face a double-digit deficit—which they have now in every game of this losing streak. But at some point it just gets a little off-putting. Head coach Fred Hoiberg said after the Michigan State second half it’s the same old, same old.

It was the same old, same old again in the Illinois second half. Nebraska forces shots. Nebraska misses shots. Nebraska lets missed shots impact its defensive energy. Haanif Cheatham completely ignored boxing out on the tip dunk Illinois guard Alan Griffin (No. 0) had. Everyone was watching the ball and Griffin came in and got the ball.

Nebraska missed 14 of its final 19 shots to close the game. Illinois didn’t shoot it any better than the Huskers but the Illini got free possessions off eight second-half Nebraska turnovers.

The Huskers take wild, crazy off-balance shots on drives to the rim, don’t crash the boards because they’re worried about transition, and then end up out of position in transition anyway.

This felt like the same script things have been following for months now. It’s just kind of a “meh” feeling at this point. Illinois has the better, more talented roster, and more to play for at this point, but the two were tied at 46-all with 15 minutes to play! 

That’s been the case in a number of games. It’d be easy to just write everything off on account of the unbalanced roster and missing pieces but these guys have been in enough games to know what not to do down the stretch. 

 
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