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February 4, 2014

Huskers continue search to solve road woes

Sophomore forward Shavon Shields said Nebraska's players don't think about the team's 1-8 record this season away from Pinnacle Bank Arena. Head coach Tim Miles said he doesn't ask his team if they think about it, either.

But as much as the Huskers may try to block out their struggles on the road this season, it remains one of the biggest dark clouds hanging over their heads as they try and continue their push up the Big Ten Conference standings.

The good news for NU is that it has won three of its past four games - the one loss coming in its lone road game during that stretch at Penn State - and has knocked off the likes of Ohio State, Minnesota and Indiana so far during league play. The bad news is that in order to keep its recent run of success going, it's going to have to try and pick up its first road win since Nov. 24, 2013, against Big Ten co-leader Michigan, which comes in ranked 10th nationally.

As if the personal hurdle of winning their first true road game since Penn State nearly a full year ago weren't daunting enough, the Wolverines boast one of the best home-court advantages in the conference this season with a 9-1 record at the Crisler Center. That one loss, by the way, came in a 72-70 defeat to No. 2 Arizona, which was the top-ranked team in the country at the time.

"We've got them right where we want them, right?" Miles said. "Last year's team, they beat Wake Forest early, so you didn't even talk about that, and then they beat Penn State. This team has had opportunities twice this year to win road games that I thought were very winnable. You just have to figure out how to make good decisions and go from there."

While Nebraska certainly hasn't played its best basketball on the road this season, part of that has to do with the level of competition it's had to face on those trips. The Huskers have already played three top-20 teams on the road so far in No. 7 Cincinnati, No. 12 Creighton and No. 17 Iowa, and Wednesday's trip to take on No. 10 Michigan will be the latest on that list. That also doesn't include NU's game at Ohio State and a neutral-site contest with UMass, which ranked 21st and 24 in the Associated Press Top-25 poll respectively just last week.

"We've played some really difficult teams on the road," Miles said. "I was talking to my father today, and he said, 'I just didn't realize how good Cincinnati was.' And I was like, 'Yeah, I had to sit through it. They're good.' So I'm looking forward to a big week, and we just need to get on the board. But you can't make too big a deal of it either, as a coach to the players, because you start thinking, 'Oh, we're a great home team but we're not great on the road.' You just try and win every night."

Another reason for the struggles away from home have to do with how young and inexperienced Nebraska's roster is this season. Aside from Shields, senior Ray Gallegos, sophomore David Rivers and sophomore Benny Parker, no other player in NU's regular rotation this year had played in a Big Ten game before, let alone been in the starting lineup.

The hope is that with each game of experience the Huskers get under their belts, they'll eventually be prepared for anything in life on the road in league play.

"Obviously we're still learning how to win," sophomore forward Walter Pitchford said. "On the road, it's tough. We just need to be together and just remember all the Husker fans that are back here. It's no different, they're still cheering us on even when we're away. We just need to really hone in on just the togetherness and don't have too many mental breakdowns."

Nebraska is far from the only Big Ten team to have problems on the road. The conference has essentially been turned upside down this season with its perennial powers seemingly getting knocked off by the week when traveling to the likes of Penn State, Northwestern, and of course, Nebraska.

"It's always difficult to win on the road," Miles said. "You look at some of the best teams, they struggle on the road. I think it is what you make of it, too. We just need to win games. Home, away, my house, your house, I don't care. We just need to figure out how to win."

It will definitely be a tall task for the Huskers to reverse their road struggles against one of the Big Ten's best in the Wolverines, but if they're ever going to make a serious push towards returning to the NCAA Tournament, they know they'll have to start winning games like that at some point.

"Our mindset kind of going in is we need to get to .500 or above .500 in the league, so every game matters," Shields said. "In order to do that, we're going to have to win on the road, so why not start now?"


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