Preparing for Saturday’s game with Central Arkansas requires more than just dusting off the scouting report that had been put together for when the teams were supposed to originally meet.
Back on Dec. 7, when an ice storm led to the game’s postponement, the Bears were playing without 6-foot-5 senior guard LaQuentin Miles and 6-5 senior forward Tirrell Brown. Both made their season debut last weekend, with Miles scoring 28 points and Brown getting nine points and eight rebounds in a double-overtime loss to Charleston Southern.
Both Miles, third-team All-Southland Conference last season, and Brown had been academically ineligible.
University of Nebraska at Omaha coach Derrin Hansen sees both positives and negatives in the timing of Saturday’s rescheduled noon game at the Farris Center.
“They still run the same things, so that part doesn’t change,” he said. “But at the time we were supposed to play them they were struggling a little, and now they have a couple of guys back — so we’ll see how they jell. Looking back, though, having that game postponed gave us a couple of extra days to get ready for (Cal State) Bakersfield, which was important, too.”
Central Arkansas — picked to finish ninth by coaches in the 12-team Southland Conference — is 2-7, has one Division I win and is ranked near the bottom of Division I at No. 342 according to realtimeRPI.com as of Friday afternoon. However, two of the Bears’ losses were to Kansas State and Texas Tech, and another was to a solid Louisiana Tech program.
They also gave away their loss to Charleston Southern, squandering a five-point lead in the final minute of regulation while making 14 of 30 free throws for the night. The Bears also played without two solid reserves in Ryan Williams and Oliver Wells, who have nagging injuries.
Like UNO, the Bears like to push the pace. The Mavericks (9-4 and No. 74 in realtimeRPI) rank sixth in the country in adjusted tempo (the speed a team plays relative to the pace played by its opposition), according to kenpom.com. Central Arkansas is No. 46 in adjusted tempo, complementing that by shooting 40.9 percent from 3-point range. The Bears score 37.4 percent of their points on 3s, the 12th-highest figure in the country.
“We don’t want to go in there and just try to outscore them,” Hansen said. “They’ve got six guys who shoot the 3 in the high 30s (percent) or better, and they drive it really well. It’s going to be a game where we have to both chase them off the (3-point) line and fight the bounce (drive).”
Miles averaged 15.4 points per game last season, but wasn’t named to either the first- or second-team preseason all-conference squads.
While Miles has been out for UCA, UNO has been waiting for its preseason All-Summit selection, senior wing Justin Simmons, to return to form.
Simmons showed some signs of breaking out of an early season slump last weekend in a loss to Minnesota and a win against Seattle. The 6-3 Simmons had eight points, all in the second half, against the Gophers, then followed that up by matching his season high of 12 points Sunday against Seattle.
Simmons, who started slow and then suffered a back injury against South Carolina State in the fifth game that forced him to miss almost three full games, is averaging 7.4 points and 1.6 rebounds while shooting 30.5 percent from the field and 16.2 percent (6 of 37) from 3. Last year, in addition to scoring 16.7 per game, Simmons averaged 4.0 rebounds and shot 47.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent (43 of 107) from 3.
“I think he showed some things against Minnesota and Seattle that we’re used to seeing,” Hansen said. “I thought he played decent on both those games. (This slump) started with the injury and now I think he’s just got to get his confidence back.”