Minnesota to play Nebraska on the road

Tonight’s game in Lincoln, Neb., is the Gophers’ only true nonconference road game.

by Bob Wothe

When Minnesota’s men’s basketball team takes on Nebraska tonight, it will be the biggest game it’ll play for an entire month.

With the likes of Central Michigan (6-24 last year) and Chicago State (12-20) on the horizon, the Big 12’s Nebraska is Minnesota’s most reputable opponent before the Big Ten season starts.

And when the game tips off at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, Neb., at 8 p.m. on national television, the Gophers (3-3) will be playing the Cornhuskers (3-1) in their one and only true nonconference road game – the others were at a neutral site in the Great Alaska Shootout.

So while the Gophers are anxious to get on the floor, they realize it will be an uphill battle.

“We’re all really looking forward to playing a road game in a hostile environment,” senior captain Brent Lawson said. “It’s going to be good for our young guys to get that kind of experience. They haven’t had it yet.”

Three freshmen – Rico Tucker, Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman – will be playing in their first Division I road game.

But Tucker said he was not interested in discussing the perils of playing on the road, but rather which style of game would prevail – Nebraska’s slower, Big 12 pace, or the more up-tempo transition game Minnesota would like to play.

“It’s just key for us to start the game with energy and not have so many lapses offensively,” Tucker said. “We need to close out halves and finish stronger.”

Indeed, offensive droughts have been a big problem for Minnesota so far. In each of its last three games, the team has hit 10-minute stretches during the second half in which it scored 10 or fewer points.

The team lost the first two of those games to Oklahoma and Florida State before finally prevailing after a similar lapse in an uncertain game against Holy Cross.

What Minnesota coach Dan Monson said after the Holy Cross games was certain: The team cannot afford that type of drought against Nebraska.

“It’s mostly a product of the newness of this team, but we know we can’t have as many turnovers,” Monson said. “(Nebraska is) a very aggressive, battle-tested team with a lot of athleticism. So, we’ve got to take care of the ball.”

Monson said Nebraska’s aggressiveness particularly concerns him on the glass, where Nebraska has grabbed approximately 22 more rebounds per game than its opponents.

That’s particularly problematic, because rebounding has not been a strong point for Minnesota: The squad was outrebounded 35-27 by its other Big 12 opponent, Oklahoma.

In all, the team as a whole said it will take its best effort of the year to win at Nebraska.

“We were about 17th in the country two years ago, and we went down there and got embarrassed,” Monson said. “Nebraska plays really hard at home, and we’re going to have to give all our effort to win.”