LINCOLN — Andrew White wasn’t going to touch the basketball. And if somehow he did, Wisconsin certainly wouldn’t let him get a clean look at the hoop.
The Badgers assigned Nigel Hayes to carry out their strategy Wednesday night — their long and muscular 6-foot-8 forward had enough quickness to stay in front of Nebraska’s top scorer and was physical enough to wear White down.
Wisconsin’s plan did clear a few paths to the basket for other NU guards to exploit, but open driving lanes were an acceptable consequence in an attempt to keep a dangerous shooter from finding his rhythm. The Badgers simply didn’t want White to beat them.
This is the new reality for White, a skilled 6-foot-7 junior transfer from Kansas experiencing his first season as a marked man in Big Ten play. No Shavon Shields in the Nebraska lineup only amplifies the threat he poses.
Hayes “did a good job a couple times denying me when I was coming up to get the ball, but other than that, it wasn’t too hard for him to do what he does,” White said. “He knew exactly where I was going to be. That’s evident. I could hear him calling it out.”
The Huskers (13-12, 5-7), who host Penn State at 5 p.m. Saturday, lost 72-61 at Wisconsin on Wednesday, with White managing just 10 points. It was his first game this season without making a 3-pointer.
He’s still one of the league’s most productive players — during Big Ten action he’s ninth in the conference in scoring (16.8 points per game), tied for eighth in rebounding (6.9) and tied for fifth in 3-pointers made (2.6). But his numbers have tapered off a bit lately.
In his first six conference games, White averaged 18.5 points, shot 48.8 percent from 3-point range and recorded 11 assists. During the six games since, he’s averaged 15 points, shot 32.4 percent from long range and dished out two assists.
“Guys aren’t just going to let me get wide-open shots,” White said. “I think that’s the biggest adjustment that I’ve seen going from the beginning of the year until now. Wide-open shots off (kick-out passes) are hard to get these days.”
But White isn’t lowering any expectations for himself.
He did admit Friday that the design of Nebraska’s offense can make his off-ball movements a little more predictable. NU wants to space the floor — and shooters have to occupy certain spots on the perimeter to increase the stress on defenders who may consider double-teaming a ball-handler or shifting over to help guard a drive.
No one’s leaving White alone anymore, though. In fact, they’re face-guarding him so passes can’t come his way. They’re shading zone defenses toward him.
And with Shields out indefinitely with a concussion and neck strain, the emphasis on taking away White only increases. Shields averages 15.7 points and 2.9 assists per game.
“It’s just easier to key on us,” NU coach Tim Miles said.
Penn State (12-12, 3-8) will likely have its own tactics to limit White Saturday. It’s hard to know what exactly to expect, he said.
But he’s not backing away from the challenge. Even if he can’t get catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, he said, he can help the Huskers in other ways.
He had a fast-break layup, a driving bucket and a put-back layin against Wisconsin Wednesday. He added a couple of midrange jumpers, shots he’s confident he can make in any situation.
He said he must do more, though. More rebounds. More steals. More sudden back-cuts to the rim. He has to remain aggressive, even if teams are trying desperately to deny him.
“You don’t want to be the last guy on the scouting report. You want to be the first,” White said. “You have to be ready for it. You have to embrace it.”
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