It's fast becoming a lost season for poor-shooting Nebraska
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Nebraska celebrated a breakthrough season last year that ended with the program's first NCAA tournament berth in 16 years.
This season, the Cornhuskers have reverted to their old ways and seem headed for their customary finish in the lower half of their conference.
Fans didn't want to believe coach Tim Miles when he warned before the season that even with most of his players back, there was no guarantee the magic would carry over. He said the Huskers simply might have ''captured lightning in a bottle'' last year when they won eight of their last nine to finish fourth in the Big Ten.
This season has shown that Miles, in his third year in Lincoln, has a lot of work to do to make this program a consistent conference contender.
''We don't have a playmaking point guard, we really don't have a presence to throw it inside to, and we're not shooting the 3-pointer at all,'' Miles said. ''So we're really an incomplete team right now. That's just the way it is.''
Nebraska (13-11, 5-7) sits 10th in the 14-team Big Ten after Tuesday's 65-55 loss to Wisconsin, the fourth defeat in five games. The Huskers' six remaining regular-season games are against teams looking to improve their NCAA seeding or fighting for a bid.
Barring an improbable Big Ten tournament title, the Huskers' best hope would be to make the NIT.
''We have to stick with the process,'' Terran Petteway said. ''Everybody can't be on their own agenda. We can't have guys coming in and saying, `Forget this, I'm doing my own thing.' That would sink the ship right now.''
Back-to-back home losses to struggling Creighton and Division I newcomer Incarnate Word were early red flags for a team ranked No. 21 in the preseason.
Even though the Huskers remain one of the nation's best defensive teams, it hasn't been enough to compensate for one of the worst offenses. Nebraska is scoring 57.3 points and shooting 27.4 percent on 3-pointers in Big Ten play, both league-worst marks. Those figures are 48.6 points and 20 percent in its five conference road games, all losses.
Petteway is the Big Ten's third-leading scorer, at 18.9 points a game, and Shavon Shields is seventh, at 15.7. Neither is shooting at a high percentage, though, and there aren't any true scoring threats behind them.
Walter Pitchford, at 6-foot-10, should create a difficult matchup because of his perimeter shooting. But he's gone from 41 percent from behind the 3-point line last season to 28 percent, and he's 2 of 18 on 3s in Big Ten road games.
Nebraska wasn't very good offensively a year ago, either, but the threat of Ray Gallegos' 3-point shooting created space for Petteway and Shields to get to the rim. With Gallegos gone, and no one else shooting the 3 well, some opponents have flummoxed the Huskers with zone defenses.
With shots not falling, and no space in the lane, the Huskers' confidence has been sapped.
''I think that when you miss shot, miss shot, miss shot, you're kind of in the `I wonder what's going on' state,'' Miles said. ''You either make it happen or you wonder what happened. You have to have a certain aggressive mentality or you're in trouble.''
The hope is that help is on the way. Miles has recruited two highly regarded power forwards, and Kansas transfer Andrew White will be eligible next season.
For now, the Huskers are left to deal with a lost season and a growing level of frustration.
''It's at its highest,'' forward Leslee Smith said. ''I don't think it can get any higher than this.''