LINCOLN — Nebraska is in pain management mode.
It can’t heal its wounds or deficiencies. Not now, between the biggest loss of the season Saturday at Iowa and before No. 9 Maryland on Tuesday.
All they can do is maintain, try and stay upright. But the Huskers could be down two starters.
Dachon Burke has the flu, went to the doctor Monday and likely won’t travel. Haanif Cheatham has a calf contusion and hasn’t practiced the last two days. He’ll travel to Maryland, get treatment all day and might see playing time.
If he can't go, the Huskers will be down to seven scholarship players against the 19-4 Terrapins, winners of six straight and in the heat of a conference title race. Nebraska might end up a 20-point underdog. KenPom gives NU a 5% chance to win.
And at this, the dregs of a lost season, Fred Hoiberg isn’t about to try and make his team feel any worse. It’s all about managing the pain already endured, and trying to prevent anything catastrophic.
“This is not the time to pound on them right now,” Hoiberg said Monday morning. “Obviously we continue to teach and try to get better at things we’re struggling with right now, which is consistency.”
Nebraska displayed very little consistency Saturday night in Iowa City.
The Hawkeyes made 21 of 29 shots during the middle 15 minutes and led by as many as 38 points, the largest NU deficit of the season. Nebraska did force some turnovers, made a few shots in transition and pulled within single digits after a 15-2 Iowa lead early.
But after that, Nebraska couldn’t keep up.
“We did a lot of good things in that stretch, but it's just not enough of that right now,” Hoiberg said. “Defensively the second half was a disaster. We were awful defensively and a lot of that had to do with our inability to score the basketball.”
Particularly down low. Nebraska missed 12 layups against Iowa, but it seemed twice that many to Hoiberg. Three times a Husker missed an open layup on a fast break. Cam Mack often cut into the teeth of that Iowa zone, dished it to the short corner, but a teammate couldn’t score from within three feet.
The Huskers have shot 50% on layups — opponents have made 61% — in the past four games, missing 51 total and leaving 102 potential points on the floor. Add that to Nebraska’s 23 missed free throws, and that’s 125 points squandered.
The Huskers have been outscored by 46 in the last four games.
“We have to be stronger,” Thorir Thorbjarnarson said. “We have to keep going aggressive.”
Missed layups turn into points on the other end, Hoiberg said. You fall down, that’s a five-on-four break. You get blocked, it could be a four-on-two break the other way.
“We're missing some where there’s not a body within three or four feet of our player,” Hoiberg said. “There's a frustration level involved in that. Frustration level with the guy that makes the pass with the inability to finish and obviously the guy that misses the shot. A lot of times, you put your head down when you miss an easy, point-blank layup like that.”
And that’s what Nebraska battles most right now — frustration.
There’s a whirlwind of disappointment and stress blowing through this final stretch of the season. Cam Mack hasn’t played up to his potential the last two weeks and hasn't seemed the same since his third benching. NU was 5 of 25 from 3-point range against Iowa, its second-worst 3-point shooting percentage since the Southern Utah loss.
And now it's off to Maryland, with 6-foot-10 Jalen Smith, senior guard Anthony Cowan and a team sniffing a No. 2-seed in the NCAA tournament.
“It's going to be a grind,” Hoiberg said “You got to go down there and play with great energy. That's the big message right now, is to go out and play as consistently as we can with as much energy as we can, hopefully give ourselves a chance.”