Miles shoulders blame for Huskers' lack of focus, toughness
Tim Miles knows he should have seen it coming, and he should have done more to keep it from happening.
After a solid practice on Sunday, Nebraska traveled to take on Rutgers on Monday night in a game expected by many to be just what the doctor ordered following a tough home loss vs. then-No. 6 Michigan State four days earlier.
But when the Huskers met for the film session before the game, their demeanor and focus clearly weren't where they needed to be in order to take care of business on the road against a Big Ten Conference opponent.
In the wake of NU’s awful 76-69 loss to the Scarlet Knights, Miles found himself kicking himself for not doing more to snap his team back into shape.
“I didn’t have them ready to play…” Miles said during his radio show on the Husker Sports Network on Wednesday night. “I just don’t think, as I looked at it, that I had them in the right mind frame. I’m trying to get to the point in my life where I don’t threaten them every game, like, ‘This team’s the best, and you’re going to lose if you don’t do this,’ and you create all this fear, worry, and doubt.
“You try not to do that, but then after not doing it and losing, you feel like, ‘what in the world?’ My job is to prepare them, but I’ve got to get a standard of play out of these guys, too, and I didn’t do a good enough job."
Monday night’s loss was the low point of a frustrating January for Nebraska, which came into the month at 11-2 overall but has now lost four of its past six games. Miles said he felt like his team had only really played a game and a half of good basketball in 2019 – in its road win over now struggling Indiana and a strong defensive performance vs. MSU.
Miles admitted that some of the pressure that built with the Huskers’ preseason expectations and on through a successful non-conference schedule had weighed on the players as the pressure has continued to rise during the thick of league play.
“I do think sometimes our guys, they’re a really cerebral team, and you can read their body language,” Miles said. “Everybody can see when they’re stressed or tense or trying too hard or whatever. They’re pretty easy to read, I think, for everybody. That’s one thing we’re trying to do, is keep these guys focused on the task at hand and aggressive. You’ve seen when we are like that how special they can be...
“Hopefully the guys will heed the lesson and get going, and I think they will. What I’m trying to do is get these guys to be a player-led team where they have complete ownership and they’re ready to roll, and I think we’re getting closer to that.”
To make matters worse, Nebraska’s plane didn’t get back to Lincoln until after 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning due to winter weather delays. The staff gave the players the day off on Tuesday, and Miles said they responded with a “tough-minded” practice on Wednesday.
The Huskers actually have a bit of a scheduling break this week, as they’ll get four full days off before returning to action at home against reeling Ohio State for Saturday’s 11 a.m. tip. The Buckeyes will be dragging a five-game losing streak with them to Lincoln – their longest since 1997-98 – including a 79-67 home loss to Purdue on Wednesday night.
But Nebraska is in no position to worry about another team’s struggles at the moment, and Miles knows it.
“We’re just not very tough right now,” Miles said. “We’re a soft team. What I mean by that is, it’s just the little things that show up… That comes from our practice and what we’re doing. We’re a little bit of a casual team…
“What’s frustrating with this team right now is when you see such a talented team struggle and not play well or not play their best, it frustrates everybody, including me and including our fans. That’s the hard part. It’s hard to swallow that.
“But I want to remind folks: I want us playing our best basketball at the end. That doesn’t mean we’re not trying as hard now, but I’m going to get us pointed in the right direction, and our guys are going to get pointed in the right direction. I’ll be surprised if we’re not playing great at the end.”