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November 29, 2012

Huskers trying to manage player workload, success

In a season where people were expecting to potentially be able to count Nebraska's win total on one hand, the fact that the Huskers are off to a 5-1 start to the year is something few could have predicted.

Not only that, NU is also coming off a huge road win over Wake Forest on Tuesday night in which it put on one of its best offensive performances in years in the second half.

Needless to say, there's a nice, positive buzz surrounding the program at the moment. But first-year head coach Tim Miles isn't buying into any of the hype, nor is he allowing his team to either.

"Well, coaches by nature don't enjoy anything," Miles said on Thursday. "We live in that kind of vicious cycle of paranoia, or straight fear, one of those two. But the guys need to understand what it takes to win and the effort it takes, and the process is the most important thing, because if you're outcome-based driven, you're going to go one way, which is down.

"If you're great with success, you're going to lose your edge. If you're stuck in a rut and you're not winning, then you're in trouble there too because you're going to lose all your confidence. If you can just find a way to get better - and we've got a whole bunch of stuff to get better at."

With six full days before their next game against Southern Cal on Dec. 3, Miles has had to try to balance getting in enough practice time to keep his players focused while also allowing enough of a break to keep their bodies fresh for a brutal upcoming four-game stretch in the non-conference schedule.

Through the first six games of the season, Nebraska has four players averaging over 27 minutes per game, including three averaging over 30. Only sophomore David Rivers (24.3 mpg) is averaging more than 20 minutes off the bench thus far, and he and junior Mike Peltz (16.5 mpg) are the only players to see action in all six games.

Against Wake Forest, the Huskers won despite playing just six scholarship players.

Miles said he tries to give his guys rest as much as possible both during the week and in games, but with such an inexperienced team learning a new system, he said NU needed as much work as it could get.

"It's just hard," Miles said. "We've got a lot to get in. We've got a lot to cover. I don't know how pitchers are with innings, but the old 'We only want to play them 28 minutes a game as opposed to 33 minutes a game,' I'm just like, we're talking about 150 minutes over five months… To me, it's mental. These guys are good-conditioned athletes. It's more mental than it is physical."

Senior guard Ray Gallegos, who is averaging 34.5 mpg and played 36 minutes against Wake Forest, said the Husker starters aren't feeling the wear and tear much yet, which he credited to all the work the team put in with strength coach Tim Wilson during the offseason.

"On off days, they tell us to stay off our legs as much as possible," Gallegos said. "So far, none of us can really tell. I know in the offseason with Coach Wilson we really worked hard on our conditioning, and I think it's working and paying off so far."

Eventually, however, Miles said his team had to get more help from its bench to ease up the work load for the top six or seven players in the rotation. He said the return of freshman wing Shavon Shields, who's missed five of the first six games with a lingering elbow injury, would be a big help in that regard.

"I believe he's going to do some shooting tomorrow (Friday)," Miles said. "I don't think he'll be able to practice until the weekend, so we won't know until he gets in, practices hard and see how the elbow reacts."


Around the rim

***Miles said he gave the Huskers both Wednesday and Thursday off of practice to both rest their legs and to help them focus on their academics as the fall semester winds down.

"I feel like this is a huge week academically for student-athletes, so we have them yesterday off and today off," Miles said. "Just like a mini vacation. They get to have two school days where they don't have to worry about practice, and hopefully that's helpful academically."

***Asked which player has impressed him the most over the first six games, Miles said freshman point guard Benny Parker was up there with anyone. Parker currently holds a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.

"I think Benny Parker has done a really good job with his care with the basketball," Miles said. "We need to make sure it continues, but I really like what Benny's done in terms of just not trying to do too much, taking opportunities when they're there in transition, and generally delivering the ball to guys when they need it."

***Miles said he hasn't spent much time studying USC yet, but his initial impressions were that the Trojans made up for a lack of offense with strong defensive play and a formidable front court.

"They expected a big year, and I don't think they like where they're at," Miles said. "They've struggled offensively. They're defensively strong, and they're strong in post defense too from what I've seen just generally. That kind of worries me because we've been able to go in there on people, and when we can establish that inside thing then throw in a few outside shots, we've been alright."

***It's been well documented that 2013 verbal commit Tai Webster, who still hasn't submitted his letter of intent, will be in town this weekend on an official visit and will attend the USC game on Monday. While he didn't mention Webster by name, Miles did say he hoped Nebraska fans would come to the game in full force to show Webster the kind of support the basketball program has.

"We have an official recruit in on a game day," Miles said. "We want that recruit to see just how great our fans are, how supportive they are and how they come out in mass to ball games to support us, and their energy level and just how into it Husker fans are. And they are great. I think that's really important."

***Lastly, Miles said one of the biggest benefits he's looking forward to with the new Pinnacle Bank Arena next season was an improved game day experience for fans, which he hoped would result in a better overall home-court advantage for the Huskers.

"We need to continue to improve our game day operation, there's no doubt about it," Miles said. "As we go, that's something as we make the move to Pinnacle Bank (Arena) with the options of the new scoreboard and everything that's going to go on with that, it's going to be more advantageous to a more exciting game day experience for the fans."


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