The Devaney Center has been a special place for UNO center John Karhoff.
The state tournament is played there, so it’s been a mecca for Nebraska high school basketball players. Karhoff, a 6-foot-8 junior, went 1-2 there while competing for Omaha Creighton Prep.
“In high school, that was your goal, to get to Devaney,” he said.
On Sunday, Karhoff and his University of Nebraska at Omaha teammates step on the floor again, this time in their second year as a Division I program. The Mavericks will take on Nebraska in a 2 p.m. game, the first between the two schools since the 2006-07 season. Nebraska won that game 76-62.
It will be an introduction of sorts for Nebraskans outside of Omaha who may not be familiar with the Mavericks. Those at the game will see a team that is averaging 69.5 points per game and likes to get the ball up and down the court.
“I think there is going to be a lot of eyes on us,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “I think our kids are going to enjoy it, I assume the coaches and fans are going to enjoy it. I think the state likes the matchup.”
Nebraska, by contrast, is scoring 58 points a game after beating Southern 66-55 and Valparaiso on Thursday night, 50-48.
Becoming more consistent on offense is high on Nebraska coach Tim Miles’ list.
“We have a long way to go offensively,” he said.
But looking on the bright side, he said his team still found a way to hang on against Valparaiso while struggling to put the ball in the basket down the stretch.
“How many times do you win and not score in the last seven minutes of the game?” he joked. “Not often.”
Against Valpo, NU led 48-37 with 7:20 to go. From that point on, NU scored only on two Brandon Ubel free throws.
Ubel, a 6-10 senior, leads the Huskers in scoring at 19 a game. Junior guard Ray Gallegos is chipping in 15 a game.
Karhoff is UNO’s leading scorer with 12.3 points per game, followed by Alex Phillips at 11.8. Karhoff’s parents are from Iowa, so he grew up a Hawkeye fan. He doesn’t know any players on the Husker roster.
Still, he said it will be a lot of fun to get back to Devaney and play in front of a large group of family and friends.
But that won’t be the Mavs’ focus.
“It’s a big game for us, but at the same time it’s a game we need to get better as a team,” Karhoff said. “We need to take it like any other game and try to execute our offense and play good defense.”
Karhoff said consistency has been an issue in these early games while the veterans and new players learn to play together. They need to learn to push through adversity.
That isn’t easy in the middle of a tough 10-game stretch that keeps the Mavericks on the road until Dec. 18.
Hansen has seen some things that he likes, but UNO has been hurt by some poor shooting and defensive breakdowns in big losses to Texas Tech and Tulane.
“We’re still struggling to find our way a little bit, and I’m assuming (Nebraska coach) Tim (Miles) is probably the same way right now,” Hansen said.
Exactly, Miles said.
“At this point in time we’re more worried about ourselves than we are our opponent,” he said. “It’s important to look at what we need to get better at.
“We still have to continue to hustle back and be good in transition defense. We need to do a better job of rebounding. And then we have to improve on offense.”
As for UNO, Miles said Hansen has collected some athletic players and that the Mavs have a good skill level.
The transition to Division I is difficult, he said. Miles went through the same thing while coaching at North Dakota State in the mid-2000s.
“Those beginning games are always tough,” Miles said. “You know Derrin is going to come through it and get them going the right way. I know it.”
An upside to UNO’s games with Big 12 teams such as Texas Tech is that the Mavs won’t be in awe of playing a Big Ten team.
“Maybe we can adjust a little bit quicker than we did in these first two games,” Hansen said.
The downside is the quick turnaround. After flying home on Friday following the 76-52 loss at Tulane — part of the Joe Cipriano Nebraska Classic — the Mavericks had one day to scout the 2-0 Huskers.
Karhoff said playing so many games on the road can wear on a team, but the Mavs will just have to fight through it.
“We should be fine. We’ll get a day off, have a light practice and get ready for the game on Sunday,” Karhoff said. “It’s going to be a big game for the local boys. I think we’ll be ready.”
» NOTES: Nebraska’s players will sign autographs on the court for fans following the UNO game.
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