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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A stunning loss to Incarnate Word has compounded Nebraska coach Tim Miles' confusion about why his veteran team has underperformed the first month of the season.
"I don't know that you can help but be very concerned," Miles said. "One of the coaches said, 'I think we're at rock bottom.' I said, 'No, you never say that.' The one thing I've learned in 20 years of head coaching, don't talk about rock bottom. Just talk about how we need to get better and believing in what we're doing and go from there."
The Cornhuskers returned seven of their top eight players from the team that made the NCAA tournament last year. They were picked to finish in the upper half of the Big Ten again and ranked in the preseason.
Nebraska (5-3) will head into Saturday's game against Cincinnati (6-1) off back-to-back home losses for the first time since it moved into Pinnacle Bank Arena last year.
"We need to come together and have a look at ourselves, have a talk among the team and just come start playing like what our identity really is," guard Tai Webster said. "It's on us. It's not on the coaches."
The Huskers rank near the bottom of the Big Ten in most of the major team statistics, they're getting little offense out of anybody except Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields and struggling to defend inside with big men Moses Abraham and Leslee Smith injured.
Petteway is second in the conference at 20.6 points a game but is shooting just 42 percent overall and 35 percent on 3-pointers. His problem is magnified because he accounts for a Big Ten-high 29 percent of the Huskers' shots. Only five players in Division I have taken a larger share of their teams' shots, according to STATS.
Shields, averaging 18.3 points, is shooting 56 percent but has been hot and cold. Together, he and Petteway have taken 49 percent of the Huskers' shots — the most of any tandem in the Big Ten.
No other player is scoring more than 6.8 points a game.
Bad decision-making also has confounded Miles, never more than in the last 30 seconds of Wednesday's 74-73 loss to Incarnate Word, transitioning Division I school.
With Nebraska ahead by three points, Shields got the ball on an inbound play and was supposed to wait to get fouled. Instead, he inexplicably unloaded the ball to Webster, who committed a turnover.
Twice in the next 10 seconds the Huskers fouled Shawn Johnson in the act of shooting 3-pointers. Johnson made 4 of the 6 free throws to make it a one-point game.
On Nebraska's final inbound play, Petteway threw in the ball instead of Tarin Smith, the man Miles wanted to do the job. Petteway misread his teammates' moves to get open and fired his pass untouched out of bounds, giving Incarnate Word enough time to hit the winning shot.
"I thought we were on the right track," Miles said, "but I think we lost our poise, and we certainly paid the price for it."
Cincinnati will pose a much different challenge than high-scoring Incarnate Word. The Bearcats have no scorers averaging in double figure. They're sixth nationally in scoring defense at 52 points a game.
With nine scholarship players available, and only seven playing meaningful minutes, Miles can shake up his rotation only so much. He's left to hope the Huskers play themselves out of their funk.
"I don't know where some of our guys are mentally, but I would venture to say that there are some guys who either doubt themselves or are worried about how they're going to play or are worried about the outcome," Miles said. "That does not work. The aggressor always wins."
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