In the wake of maybe the most frustrating loss of the season, Nebraska figured the best way to move on from its setback at Illinois was to go at it as hard as ever the past two days in practice to hopefully get back on track against Northwestern on Saturday.
Head coach Tim Miles said the Huskers had two full-length practices on Thursday and Friday to try and fix the variety of problems that plagued them in their 60-49 defeat to the Fighting Illini. The biggest priority of all, though, was reversing the lack of hustle and energy NU showed from the early minutes on through the rest of the game.
"I think the guys were really disappointed in their effort and the fact that I think Illinois did to us what we had been doing to other teams, they just out-scrapped and out-hustled us," Miles said. "That's evident in they forced turnovers and they got a large number of points that way. They got second-chance opportunities. Two-thirds of their points were what I would call hustle plays, and so I think that's what (the Huskers) are most disappointed about. It's one thing to win, it's one thing to lose. It's sometimes how you lose, and I think that was the disappointing part."
While Nebraska has struggled much of the season on the road outside of a handful of games, including its upset of Michigan State, Miles said the Huskers almost didn't give themselves a chance to come back against Illinois because of the poor attitude and focus they had both during the game and in their practice the day prior. After a number of bounces didn't go their way early on, Miles sensed his team lost its composure a bit and almost checked out mentally before the game was decided.
"Eventually they just broke us," Miles said. "They just broke our will, because you look at it and you look at our body language, we're down eight with the ball with a chance to even cut it to five with a minute and a half left, but our body language was awful. That's something this team really needs to learn. They'll sometimes make decisions that don't need to be made yet, like, 'Oh, this game will be easy', or 'Oh, this game's over.' You just can't go down that path."
Sophomore wing Terran Petteway took as much heat for the loss as any Husker after his 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting from the field. More than his final stats, it was Petteway's poor body language - something both he and Miles have addressed since early in the season - after things started going against him that bothered some NU fans. Miles said it was far from just Petteway who didn't handle himself well against Illinois, and Petteway said it felt like the entire team was out of sync compared to where they were during their previous winning streak.
"It just felt like we were panicking," Petteway said. "We were pressing. You could see that we were just pressing and rushing a lot of things, kind of like what we were doing in the beginning of conference (play) when we started losing four in a row. As long as we get back to doing what we were doing and playing team defense and playing team basketball on the offensive end, I think we'll be just fine."
Petteway battling through the grind
Like nearly every player in college basketball at this point, Petteway's body is starting to feel the wear and tear of a long season, though he wouldn't admit it if you asked him. Having already missed some practice time with a sore back a couple weeks ago, Miles said it would be important to monitor Petteway's work load in practice over the next few weeks in order to keep him as fresh as possible down the stretch.
"Terran's one of those guys you've got watch, but at the same time, this time of year we're not on the (practice) floor for that long," Miles said. "A lot of it's mental wear and tear too. He guards their best player, now they're packed in the lane and every time he goes in he's seeing two or three people. Some nights he still goes out and gets 29 somehow… He had a tough night. We all had a tough night, and there's no doubt that we're riding him hard. But I think we give him about as much rest as you possibly can."
Petteway did admit that the toll of the season is something all players have to fight through, but when asked what specific physical issues he was dealing with at the moment, he simply said 'Nothing' with a smile. But having started all 27 games this year and averaging over 31 minutes per contest, Petteway is definitely feeling the effects of his workload.
Of course, he'd never use that as an excuse.
"I think every basketball player would tell you that around the country," Petteway said. "That's why you have to play through it. That's part of being an athlete. You've just got to play through it right now."
This is will also be Petteway's first full season in the Big Ten, though he played a year in the Big 12 as a freshman at Texas Tech before coming to Nebraska. The season isn't even over yet, but Petteway said it was already obvious that the Big Ten and Big 12 weren't on the same level in terms of physicality.
"It's a big difference," Petteway said. "The fouls they call in the Big 12, you're not going to get in the Big Ten at all. It's a huge difference."
Gallegos still fighting shooting slump
After serving as one of Nebraska's few legitimate scoring threats last season, senior guard Ray Gallegos has seemingly gone missing from the Huskers' offense recently. Over the past seven games, Gallegos has scored in double figures just once and is averaging just 4.0 points during that stretch.
Miles said he's definitely noticed Gallegos's drop in scoring production, and he sat down with his team captain on Thursday to talk about what was going on.
"I am in his head completely now," Miles said. "We had a talk yesterday and - it's unrepeatable. I've just kind of thrown out everything, and I'll be on him again today. I've talked to him often. I've worked him out individually. We've done just a whole bunch of things to get him going, and I can't think of anything else. Now I'm just like, 'It's time. Step up. Let's go.'"
The hope is Gallegos can see a couple of shots fall and get his confidence back up to where it used to be when he emerged as one of the top perimeter shooters in the Big Ten last year. Until then, though, Miles said Gallegos woulds still have a spot in NU's rotation because of his other contributions as far as defense and facilitating the offense.
"He still defends well enough to be in the rotation," Miles said. "I've asked that same question with my staff. If he's not bringing hoops to the table, is he defending well enough or should we have Nate Hawkins in there? I think he defends well enough, and his heart's in the right place. He's more than just making shots. He does some good things defensively for us too."