Nebraska enters Ann Arbor with redemption on its mind

Teresa Mathew/Daily
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By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 4, 2014

Earlier in the week, Nebraska men’s basketball coach Tim Miles joked that the Cornhuskers have been working “on our one-inch layups” in preparation for Wednesday night’s game against Michigan.

While the quip — in reference to Michigan’s dramatic 71-70 win in Lincoln on Jan. 9 — may have simply been a joke, the Cornhuskers’ play is far from it.

After going 9-27 in conference play in its first two years in the Big Ten, Nebraska (3-5 Big Ten, 11-9 overall) will enter Ann Arbor as winners of three out of four games, including wins over Indiana and then-No. 17 Ohio State.

Playing their best basketball of the year, the Cornhuskers will be seeking to move their success out of the confines of Pinnacle Bank Arena and earn their first conference road win of the season.

“(Nebraska’s) always been talented,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Now I see a chemistry with them that they’re playing as well as anyone in the league right now. (Terran) Petteway might become the best player in the league. Then (Ray) Gallegos, the way he can shoot. They have a tremendous basketball team.”

Petteway, Nebraska’s leading scorer with an average of 18.2 points to go along with 5.4 rebounds, has scored in double digits in all but one game this season. He could prove to be the game-changer for the Cornhuskers. When the teams first met, the sophomore both kept Nebraska in the game against the 10th-ranked Wolverines (8-1, 16-5) and hindered it, committing six turnovers while scoring 16 points.

With the Texas Tech transfer playing well recently — averaging 21 points in his last five games — Nebraska seems to finally be putting all of its pieces together.

“They assembled this group of talent,” Beilein said. “Several transfers, two junior college players and Gallegos, the New Zealand young man. When you throw them together, you have all this talent, but we all know that talent is never enough. You have to have chemistry, you have to have timing, you have to have a lot of great things.

“And each game that they play, all of these great talents that Tim (Miles) has brought in has got more and more comfortable with what Tim’s trying to do. And that’s been a big difference for them.”

After losing to Indiana on Sunday, halting a 10-game winning streak, Michigan and sophomore guard Nik Stauskas will look to bounce back before traveling to Ohio State and Iowa in the next week.

For Stauskas, it will be important for him to be more involved on offense after scoring just six points against the Hoosiers.

“We’ve got to do a better job getting (Stauskas) open,” Beilein said, listing the three keys to the game. “He’s got to do a better job getting open, and his teammates need to do a better job of getting him open.”

Though Beilein said on Sunday that the loss would help the Wolverines in the long run, another lesson that came out of Michigan’s first conference defeat was that excuses shouldn’t be made when Stauskas doesn’t get the ball.

“Nik could have done things and we could have done things,” Beilein said. “And his teammates could have done things. None of us say, ‘OK, they’re denying Nik, we’ve gotta go elsewhere.’ There were opportunities for him to get the ball and we just didn’t get it to him. … We don’t want him taking six shots a game.”

With defenses identifying and marking him as the Wolverines’ first option, Stauskas will have to adjust from his past playing experiences. Just as Stauskas is no longer just a shooter, he isn’t just an afterthought.

“When I look back on his career here, there was Tim (Hardaway Jr.) and Trey (Burke),” Beilein said. “In his career at St. Mark’s (Southborough, Mass.), there was (Arizona’s Kaleb) Tarczewski and (former Florida player) Eric Murphy. Now, there’s Nik Stauskas’ name out there as a marked man. That’s a different mentality.”