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March 20, 2014

Notebook: Huskers not overwhelmed by moment

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SAN ANTONIO - Tim Miles once said earlier this season that a college player's idea of history is as long as his Twitter timeline. That's what makes what Terran Petteway did before Nebraska's NCAA Tournament press conference and practice at the AT&T Center on Thursday that much more impressive.

In preparing for arguably the biggest game in Husker basketball history in Friday's first-round game against Baylor, Petteway approached his head coach and instructed him to collect each players' cell phone at 8 p.m. to avoid any unnecessary distractions in an already distraction-filled setting.

The gesture was just the latest example of Nebraska's approach in handling waters not chartered by the program since 1998. Playing in the NCAA Tournament may be a new and exciting experience, but the Huskers refuse to be overwhelmed by the moment.

"When one of your players like Terran Petteway comes up and says, 'Coach, tonight at eight o'clock you're taking our phones,' I think that's a pretty good mindset for one of your leaders on the team, a guy that was voted captain by his teammates, that they are locked in and they're here to win," Miles said. "That's what we set out to do. When Tom (Osborne) hired me, I said this is what we want to do, we want to raise expectations and go to the NCAA Tournament and win."

The key for Nebraska over the next few days is not straying from the same approach its used for every road other road game its played this season. Petteway said the players will obviously soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the rewards of earning NU's first trip to the Big Dance in 16 years, but they have no intention of just being happy to be in San Antonio.

"It's the NCAA Tournament, and it's our first time here, but we've still got to treat like just another game," Petteway said. "When you get over-hyped and think about it too much, that's when you start messing up the game plan and messing up your overall play. We've really just got to be mindful of that in how we prepare."

Sophomore forward Shavon Shields echoed Miles and Petteway's sentiments, saying Nebraska needed to be able to balance the thrill of playing in the NCAA Tournament while also maintaining a business trip approach.

"It's just enjoy the moment and stay in the moment, because you don't know when it's going to come again," Shields said. "Just stay relaxed blow it up more than it has to be. At the end of the day, it's just another game you've got to prepare for and get the team ready to win."

Unlike his players, Miles at least has the luxury of having already gone through the NCAA Tournament experience two years ago in his final season at Colorado State. More than that, though, Miles joked that his earlier experience at the D-II and NAIA levels were far more daunting than anything he'll have to deal with this week.

"This is a piece of cake compared to that stuff," Miles said. "I feel like we're coming into this with a business mentality. I want the guys to enjoy the moment, but the idea is just not to get distracted. We practiced really well the two days before we got here, but now comes the distractions: all kinds of fans, there's all this great media stuff, and it's easy to get distracted, and it's easy to start thinking about the other stuff. But

- Robin Washut

Parker OK after Big Ten ankle injury

Benny Parker said he's not suffering any ill effects from his first-half injury when Ohio State guard Aaron Craft appeared to undercut him in the Big Ten Tournament. Parker was taken to the locker room before returning late in the first half.

"I got some treatment after the game and it's started to feel better these past couple of days," Parker said. "I didn't watch (the replay). People said they saw my leg get caught on Craft. I just banged it on the floor really hard, and then I just felt a sharp pain at that moment."

Although he lay on the ground clutching his ankle for several seconds, Parker said he didn't immediately worry that the injury was serious. But after retreating to the locker room, he didn't feel quite as confident.

"I thought it might stay there for the rest of the game and I wouldn't be able to help my teammates," Parker said. "Then I started doing some cuts and it felt better."

After going through a series of exercises, Parker was cleared to return to the game. From there, adrenaline took over, and Parker brings on bringing his patented intensity to Nebraska's matchup with Baylor.

I'm still going to keep my same aggressiveness on defense and hope the game goes as planned," Parker, who got in foul trouble against OSU, said. "Nobody likes to be pressured all the time, so I'm just going to keep that same part of my game, just try to be more aggressive on defense and turn the ball over."

- Dan Hoppen

Pitchford using NCAA experience to settle teammates

Walter Pitchford is the only member of the team with any NCAA Tournament experience, and despite his limited playing time during Florida's 2011-12 run, he has one important tip to pass on.

"It can be taken from you quick," Pitchford said. "We were up on Louisville the whole game when I was at Florida, and in the last three seconds they came back. It's just a split second. Everybody has to be honed in and locked in on everything."

Pitchford and Florida led for nearly the first 39 minutes before the Cardinals, who ended the game on a 23-8 run, took their first lead with 1:06 remaining in the game.

Pitchford, who transferred to Nebraska after that season, didn't play in that contest but remembers the pain from the loss.

"Keep a cool head," point guard Tai Webster said of the advice Pitchford has given the rest of the squad. "Stay within yourself and don't let this all get to you, all the big-time and all the cameras. Just play how you play and do what you do."

Of course, that's easier said than done. None of the Huskers have played on a stage like this, and the army of reporters in the locker room Friday dwarfed any other media gathering for the team this season.

Webster admitted it can be hard to block all that out, but it's something Nebraska has to do.

"When you see all the cameras, you've got to keep your cool and not get too excited," he said with a smile. "But I'm just trying to get my head right."

- Dan Hoppen

NU shooters looking to use Bears' zone against them

Baylor's hybrid 1-3-1 zone is one of the main reasons many national pundits think Nebraska may have a hard time pulling off the upset. With aggressive guards on the perimeter and seven-foot-one center Isaiah Austin guarding the paint, finding points against the Bears is no easy task.

But those analysts might be underrating NU's shooters. Pitchford led the team by making his 3-pointers at a 41.3 percent clip, including a 9-for-16 mark in NU's last three games. And while Ray Gallegos may have struggled early and finished the regular season with a 33.6 percentage from deep, he always has the ability to get hot and has hit seven of 17 3-pointers over the last three contests.

"I just know that my teammates believe in me and they think I'm going to make my next shot," Gallegos said. "The coaches just keep stressing to me that even if I miss three or four, just keep shooting like the next one is going to go in. Just stay aggressive."

Gallegos has always been an accurate shooter, but he's gone through his slumps, none tougher than a 5-for-32 streak in an eight-game stretch from Feb. 8 to March 1. But the other players and coaches made it clear to Gallegos that they believed in him and that he had to keep shooting.

That kind of support renewed his confidence, and his shooting could be crucial against Baylor.

"That's something that I've really improved on - keeping a positive mindset when I do have the slumps or droughts that I go through," Gallegos said. "It just shows that I'm not the only one that's confident in myself. My coaches and teammates believe in me just as much as I do. That allows me to relax a little more and get more pressure off of me."

- Dan Hoppen

Huskers laid back in first San Antonio practice

Immediately following Nebraska's opening NCAA Tournament press conference, the Huskers took the AT&T Center court for a light 40-minute practice. In their first live action in San Antonio, the team seemed as calm and relaxed as if it were just another run-of-the-mill practice.

In fact, after about 30 minutes of drills and shooting work, Nebraska ended the session with full-team half-court shooting contest that including every player and coach, even Miles. As might be expected, NU 3-point ace Walter Pitchford won by banking one in first, though Shields was right behind him.

The practice was also open to fans, and about 30 or so red-clad Nebraska fans took in the sessions and gave a standing ovation to the team as they took the court. Miles rewarded them by going into the stands to mingle, pose for photos and crack jokes, and the players stuck around to sign autographs before heading back to the locker room after practice wrapped up.

Miles also spent a good portion of the beginning of practice chatting with former NBA player Steve Kerr, who will be doing color commentary for Nebraska's game versus Baylor for TruTv.

It wasn't all jokes and laughs, though, as the Huskers did go through a number of shooting drills to help get accustomed to the AT&T Center rims.

Nebraska also held a full normal practice later that afternoon at St. Mary's University in San Antonio and then went through its regular pre-game meetings and film sessions.

Baylor held its practice about an hour after Nebraska, but unlike the Huskers, that was the Bears' lone session of the day. Baylor also took Wednesday off, as it's clear the Bears are still trying to get their legs back after playing four games in four days at the Big 12 Tournament last week.

- Robin Washut



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