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Huskers say they’re ready for NIT run after promising performance at Big Ten tournament

March 20, 2019

No matter the job status of their head coach or the size of their roster, Nebraska’s basketball players are ready to keep playing.

So said two of the team’s seniors as Nebraska wrapped up preparations for Butler on Tuesday. NU hosts the Bulldogs at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the first round of the NIT at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“I think everybody’s focused,” Glynn Watson said. “We want to win the NIT, we had a good practice today, and we’re ready for Butler tomorrow.”

Nebraska’s 19th NIT appearance is one full of storylines. Tim Miles continues to coach while unsure of his future at NU, and now reports have surfaced that Nebraska has reached out to Fred Hoiberg about a potential coaching hire.

That hasn’t changed the seventh-year coach’s approach, guard James Palmer said.

“Miles is acting the same as Miles. He hasn’t changed. Hasn’t changed his demeanor, hasn’t changed his attitude,” Palmer said. “He’s just coaching us. No change at all.”

On Tuesday, Miles, after answering many of the same questions in Chicago, was once again a consummate professional when asked how the previous several days have affected him and his approach to Nebraska’s postseason.

“I think what you try to do as a coach — you know the noise that’s out there, but you do your job,” Miles said. “I’m never going to quit on this job, and I don’t expect our players are ever going to quit.

“We’re going to fight until they tell us we can’t fight anymore.”

That attitude would serve Nebraska well in an event that has become as much about who wants to be there as what kind of matchup a team may draw. The history of the NIT is littered with talented teams that came up short of the NCAA Tournament and checked out early after that disappointment.

The Huskers need only to look to last year’s version of themselves for an example. The Huskers bowed out in their first game with a loss at Mississippi State.

“The first thing I said (this week) was, ‘What kind of life do you have in you?’” Miles said. “I didn’t like last year’s mentality. I felt like we were beating up a poor old dead mule. This group’s allowed me to coach them hard. You’ve got to be in a competitive mindset.”

NU found a new competitive fire out of necessity last week after seeing its bench shortened — a bench that will somehow be even shorter than it was during the Big Ten tournament.

Miles said freshman forward Brady Heiman didn’t practice the past two days after hurting his back while getting out of bed. Anyone with a tricky back can understand Heiman’s predicament. But it’s the latest setback for a team already low on healthy bodies.

With Thomas Allen still trying to work back from a high ankle sprain suffered nearly three weeks ago, Nebraska will have five scholarship players and two walk-ons available against Butler.

Heiman’s absence may not actually affect things much. Miles played only six players against Wisconsin at the Big Ten Tournament, and the 6-foot-11 forward played just six minutes against Maryland and seven against Rutgers.

But NU is just one turned ankle or a few unfriendly whistles away from being down to Justin Costello on the bench and nothing else.

Nebraska’s players said after the Wisconsin loss that fatigue wasn’t a factor, and NU took Saturday and Sunday off before returning to practice Monday. If the energy level stays where it was in Chicago, NU figures to give itself a good shot.

“Anytime you get to keep playing,” Palmer said, “that’s all that matters.”