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Northwestern vs. Nebraska, 2.16

Nebraska's Thomas Allen goes up for a shot against Northwestern's Miller Kopp on Feb. 16 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Michigan is playing on Senior Night, and for a Big Ten championship, and for momentum heading into the postseason.

Nebraska is playing for, well, less than that.

"We've got nothing to lose," NU guard Thomas Allen said after Wednesday's practice. "We're just trying to go out there and play as hard as we can, every play."

The Huskers have settled into trying to play spoiler as the season reaches its final three games. What two months ago looked like a series of contests that could catapult Nebraska into the national spotlight has instead become a march against long odds to avoid losing all three and remaining near the basement of the Big Ten standings.

Nebraska's coach hopes that still works in his team's favor.

"They're playing for a conference championship and they can't afford to lose," Tim Miles said. "But we should be able to play loose and free because we've got nothing to lose. They've got a lot more at stake than we do, so let's just go up there and let it go, baby. Let's go play hard."

It wasn't supposed to be like this, of course. Michigan coach John Beilein also met with the media Monday, and his words were what Nebraska fans were hoping to hear this time of year.

"Absolutely we still believe we can win this thing. We're a game out of first place. It's Feb. 27 and we're still competing for a Big Ten championship," Beilein said. "If you're still competing for a Big Ten championship and it's almost damn March, you're having a heck of a year."

Michigan sits one game out of first place after losing to rival Michigan State on its home floor Sunday. After playing the Huskers, the Wolverines have challenging road games remaining at Maryland and at Michigan State.

The maize and blue will be angry and looking to build some momentum for its closing run. There's never a bad time for an underdog mentality, but for the Huskers, that's the reality.

"There is a way to win every game. You feel that way. But sometimes you have to figure that out in the game. You certainly go in trying to attack mismatches and trying to figure out what they're going to do," Miles said. "But you have to figure it out in the game, too. And that's what we've told the guys.

"What can't happen is, you think you're ready, and you go in, and somebody undiagnosed hits their first two threes and now we wonder what happened. And you've got to fight through that."

That happened at Penn State, when the Nittany Lions stunned NU with an early surge, and Nebraska never recovered.

This will be Nebraska's first trip to Ann Arbor since January of 2017, a 91-85 Michigan win that stands by far as the closest the Huskers have come to beating the Wolverines in their home arena. The other two times Nebraska has made the trip north have ended with losses of 29 and 14 points with the Huskers scoring 50 and 44 points in those games.

With the way Michigan plays defense, getting out of the 50s would be an accomplishment for NU's offense. The Wolverines are third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, eighth in effective field-goal percentage and 11th and 12th, respectively, in two-point and three-point percentage defense.

"We have to be aggressive," Miles said. "Last year (in Michigan's 77-58 win at the Big Ten Tournament) I thought they did a good job of mixing up their screen-and-roll coverages, and I thought we got frustrated with that. So we gave them a couple different looks, we broke down what we think they're going to do to try and teach it better, and hopefully they're ready for it."

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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