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Husker hoops looking for better response after rough opening night
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Husker hoops looking for better response after rough opening night

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Nebraska basketball vs. UC Riverside, 11.5

UC Riverside’s Dragan Elkaz (left) guards Nebraska’s Dachon Burke on Tuesday at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Nebraska lost its season opener 66-47.

Fred Hoiberg said it, and said it, and said it again, and then his team went out and proved him right.

The 2019-20 Nebraska men's basketball team needed to face adversity to figure out how to handle it, Nebraska's coach said in the run-up to the season. In Tuesday night's season opener against UC Riverside, that meant a 66-47 loss.

Nebraska's shots didn't fall on offense. The Huskers stopped talking. Riverside gained confidence and got hot. After the game, Hoiberg called the experience an "opportunity."

Saturday presents the next opportunity in Hoiberg's experiment when the Huskers host Southern Utah at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Tip is set for 1 p.m.

"I thought we had a couple good days of work," Hoiberg said Friday. "We had a long meeting with the players yesterday, just about a few things that I felt needed to be cleaned up. And I thought we responded and came out on the court and did some good things. But that doesn’t mean anything unless we carry that over to tomorrow and the games the rest of the season.

"You can talk about it all you want, come out here on the practice court with nobody here and do it the right way, but unless you do it when the lights turn on, it’s for nothing."

Nebraska played one player with high-major Division I experience against Riverside — junior Thorir Thorbjarnarson.

Three NU starters were playing their first Division I basketball game — juco transfers Cam Mack and Jervay Green, and 17-year-old freshman Yvan Ouedraogo. Dachon Burke was playing his first game since the 2017-18 season, when he was at Robert Morris.

The fifth starter, Haanif Cheatham, started his career at Marquette, where he played in an NCAA Tournament, but spent last season at Florida Gulf Coast and missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. Off the bench were two more players in their first college game in freshmen Kevin Cross and Samari Curtis, and another, Seattle transfer Matej Kavas, playing his first high-major game.

Nebraska is going to have growing pains. It just so happens a lot of them popped up on opening night.

"Obviously Tuesday was a tough game for us, and we can’t do anything but move on, and these past couple of days have been good practice, and we just want to get back out there," Thorbjarnarson said Friday. "We've just got to stick together. Obviously, Tuesday we lost that game and we didn’t stay together the whole time. The main thing is we’ve got to stick together as a team, and we can. And if we do, we’re going to be good. I’ve got nothing but trust in these guys."

Hoiberg and his staff try to manufacture adversity in practice through different drills, he said. But nothing beats the real thing.

"That’s why it was so important, the first time it happened, to see how we responded to it, and it didn’t go well," Hoiberg said. "So it’s about going from there. There’s nothing we can do about that game on Tuesday night. It’s about how we respond going out (Saturday) afternoon, and what we do the rest of the season."

Sallis to take official visit: As the Huskers try to find their footing on the court, a key target in NU's future rebuilding efforts will be on campus.

Millard North junior guard Hunter Sallis will take an official visit to Lincoln this weekend, a source said Friday. Sallis is a consensus top-50 player nationally in the 2021 recruiting class, ranking 48th in Rivals' rankings and 43rd in the 247 composite, and a priority target for Hoiberg and his coaching staff.

The 6-foot-4 Sallis has a multitude of high major offers, with more likely on the way. He recently participated in the invitation-only USA Basketball junior national team training camp in Colorado.

As a sophomore, Sallis averaged 18.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game for Millard North, which will feature four Division I recruits on its roster this season.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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