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January 25, 2013
After dropping its second straight disappointing home loss Tuesday night, Nebraska has spent the past three days searching for answers as to why it has struggled so much recently inside the confines of the Devaney Center.
Having looked into their daily schedules the day and night before games as well as game day mornings, head coach Tim Miles said he hasn't made any notable changes to the Huskers' routine other than emphasize the importance of individual accountability of his players to get themselves ready to play at home.
How well his message has been received won't be known until Nebraska returns to Devaney again on Saturday against Northwestern, but senior forward Brandon Ubel said the Huskers had to fix something in order to better their 7-5 home record.
"We've definitely talked about it, and it's something that we think individually we need to look at what we're doing the night before (games), day before, morning of," Ubel said. "Because on the road, Coach was telling us they can keep our schedule. They can know what we're doing. Every day we've got things that we're doing at a certain time in a certain place, and we always are in the same place (together). At home, we can do our own thing, and that leaves the onus on us to really get focused and do the things we need to do to get that edge for the game."
One strategy Miles said he contemplated using was having the team stay at a hotel together the night before games to try and replicate the schedule and focus it's had on the road this season. However, neither he nor his players want to resort to those types of measures.
"I've thought about it, but I'm not going to go down that path," Miles said. "Then you start a precedent, and it's like, eventually they've got to help themselves out. Eventually they've got to take care of themselves. How long do you pamper them, hold their hand, coddle them, whatever? I think you've just got to grow up and get yourself ready. I guess my mentality is if we start doing that, is that the path we're going?
"I know a lot of teams do it, and I understand why they do. I've never done it, and we've had some of the most successful teams - Colorado State still has a (home) winning streak that we started years ago. It's about how you get yourself ready, and I think it's more of a maturity issue of this particular team."
Another theory was that the Huskers don't practice enough on the Devaney court since the completion of the new Hendricks Center practice facility, which might limit their familiarity and comfort in home games. Miles said he didn't think that was an issue, though.
He said he could only remember two or three instances this year where he opted to move a practiced scheduled for the Devaney Center to the Hendricks Center, and the only reason was because the smaller environment of the Hendricks provides a little more energy during practices than an empty 13,500-seat Devaney.
"It seems like (the Devaney) almost ends up like an energy drain because the acoustics kind of fade out on you, and then if the guys aren't talking and everything it just feels like a quiet, dead environment," Miles said. "So I don't like that. When we go in Hendricks, any squeak of a shoe, any bounce of a ball is magnified. Any voice seems like it bounces off the wall, and I think it brings more energy."
In the end, both Miles and Ubel said the issue was something only the players themselves could correct. Asked what his usual routine was before a game, Ubel said he just hangs out at his apartment and makes sure he's relaxed and well rested for the next day.
"That's personally what I do, and I've told guys that if you're not doing something similar, we've got to change that," Ubel said. "Hopefully guys are doing something similar to that."
In a conference like the Big Ten where home-court advantage is so crucial, Nebraska is well-aware of how critical it is to win games at home, especially against teams that come in with their own struggles such as Purdue and Illinois.
Often times problems playing well at home can be a result of teams feeling a little too much pressure to perform in front of their own fans, where on the road they can take on more of an us-against-the-world mentality and focus strictly on the game.
One thing Ubel did know was that was the least of Nebraska's problems.
"I don't think there's really extra pressure," Ubel said. "It's we come out and feel like we can just turn it on. We've got to get focused the day before, night before, morning of, to a point where we're ready to go as soon as we step on the floor. For whatever reason we haven't been the last couple times out at home. We've got to get to that point."
Around the rim
***Following Nebraska's loss to Illinois on Tuesday, Miles openly voiced his frustration with the lack of effort and "pride" the Huskers showed from the very start of the game. That has definitely been one of the key talking points for NU the past few days, and Miles said it would continue to be for the rest of the season and beyond.
"You have to take pride in your program," Miles said. "You have to plant your feet and let people know you actually stand for something. I didn't think we did any of that against Illinois. I know it's a grind We just have to have a competitive fire. What do you play for? What are you playing for? Are you just playing for yourself? Are you playing just because you like to play? Are you happy to be on the team? What's your true motive?
"Maybe you haven't thought about it. Well that's a problem. If you haven't thought about it, then that's a problem. That's what we're trying to address. Think about it. What are we here for? I don't think it's a question that's going to have a final answer. If we play well tomorrow, that doesn't mean, oh, well now we have pride. I think it's a question you ask every day, and it's something you build over a course of time."
***Ubel said one way to tell if the Huskers are in for a good or bad night on Saturday is to watch how they come out and go through pre-game warm-ups.
"Sometimes in shoot-arounds it takes a bit for Coach to get into guys and say, "Hey, let's get this thing going,' which isn't a good thing," Ubel said. "You want to come out in shoot-around and from the get-go be focused, because shoot-around is directly related to how we're going to come out in the game. If we come out not focused in shoot-around and kind of a little bit slow, then we might be a little bit slow in the game. When we've had really good shoot-arounds and been really focused, we've come out in the games and played really well."
***Ubel said his injured elbow that forced him to miss two games is feeling as good as ever, and said it's close to 100 percent.