When the Huskers hit the court in Minneapolis Tuesday, they will get a Golden Gopher squad that is coming off four straight losses.
Minnesota, once 15-1, dropped to 15-5 and 3-4 in the Big Ten after losing to Wisconsin 45-44 Saturday. The team has wins against Illinois, Michigan State and Memphis, but the Big Ten has been a bumpy road for the Golden Gophers during the last two weeks.
Nebraska, on the other hand, is coming off its second win in three games — the best three-game stretch for the team in its short history in the Big Ten. The Huskers beat Northwestern 64-49 Saturday, picking up a pivotal win, according to coach Tim Miles.
“You wouldn’t want to go to Minnesota with only one conference win,” Miles said. “And Northwestern went to Illinois and won; they beat Minnesota. I mean, that’s a quality win for us. I think it maybe shows our guys, if we hang in there, if we do it right, we can do this.”
Miles is still trying to build momentum in his first season at Nebraska, and the win against Northwestern might be the spark his team needs, he said. Now going to Minnesota, Nebraska has a chance to win back-to-back conference games for the first time as a Big Ten school.
It won’t be easy, according to Miles. Minnesota is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, and Nebraska has been vulnerable on the glass this season. Against Illinois, the team was out-rebounded 38-27.
“The rebounding, I mean, they are just beasts,” Miles said. “They are all over the glass, and that’s something — defensive rebounding — that we have not been as good as we should have in the league here.”
Nebraska will go to a larger lineup on Tuesday to combat the Minnesota advantage on the glass. Brandon Ubel, Shavon Shields and Andre Almeida will play larger roles than they normally do.
Miles confirmed after Saturday’s game that Almeida, who didn’t record a minute against the Wildcats, will be available Tuesday. The 6-foot-11-inch center wasn’t part of the Northwestern game plan because he was limited in practice last week, but he will be central to Miles’ scheme against the Gophers.
“Minnesota is the best offensive rebounding team in the country,” Miles said. “We are going to need him.”
The Huskers are also going to need guard Ray Gallegos, according to Miles. The streak-shooting Gallegos can be the catalyst for Nebraska’s offense when he gets good shots, according to the coach.
Gallegos has been cold as of late, shooting just 32.7 percent in Big Ten play.
“I know that if we can get him some good looks, he will make them,” Miles said. “Sometimes we just put too much pressure on him. Sometimes we can’t get anything going, so I’ll run him off a screen going 100 miles per hour away from the basket, and the defender’s keying on him, and another guy’s hedging. We put him in some tough spots.”
The plan is to have Gallegos keep shooting and hope he catches fire. Even through the tough times, Gallegos is an important cog in the Nebraska offense, according to fellow guard Dylan Talley.
“‘We need you, so stay in the game,’” Talley said he tells Gallegos. “‘We don’t care if you don’t make a shot, but we need you to stay aggressive because we know you are capable of making it.’”
Tuesday’s game with the Golden Gophers will be a grind for the Huskers. Putting together a complete game will be key if they are to come out victorious, according to Talley.
Nebraska stood toe-to-toe with the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State but eventually fell off at the end of those games. Talley said the Huskers know what it takes to keep the foot on the gas pedal.
“You can be playing well, and it is still going to be a close game,” Talley said. “We just have to keep playing.”