CHICAGO -- It would have been easy for the Cornhuskers to quit.
Their season appeared headed toward a downward spiral from the beginning of Big Ten play. It started with a blowout loss in Columbus, then followed with defeats from Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, then Purdue.
There would be more losses and much learning along the way. It’s all part of the process.
Nebraska is building for its future, but the Huskers played for this year. An overmatched team battled talent with heart.
“We’re a resilient group,” said senior forward Brandon Ubel, whose collegiate career ended in Friday’s 71-50 loss to Ohio State. “We fight for each other. We’re not just out here for our own good. We really care about each other and we all want to win; we all want to get better.”
The Huskers’ season won’t be measured in wins or losses, but rather, progress. The senior class set the example for what Nebraska basketball should be. Those underclassmen—the program’s future—followed suit.
Through a season of peaks and valleys, Nebraska fought for Tim Miles, its first-year head coach.
At Colorado State, Miles led a program from winless in Mountain West Conference play to the NCAA Tournament’s second round. But it’s more than just coaching which makes Miles. His charismatic approach makes him genuinely likeable to his teams.
“Guys that put their hearts into the program, trying to build this up for Coach Miles,” freshman guard Bennie Parker said.
The month of January wasn’t kind to Nebraska. It had dropped six of seven entering a Saturday morning meeting with Northwestern. The Huskers could have slept through the contest, but instead, they fought. A needed 64-49 victory offered inspiration moving forward.
The slate remained difficult. Nebraska fell in four of its following five games, with a win over Big Ten bottom-dweller Penn State breaking up the skids. Yet, never more was the Huskers’ heart on display than on February 23 against Iowa. They erased a 19-point deficit to knock off the Hawkeyes, 64-60.
Fans stormed the Devaney Center floor. It wasn’t a stunning upset of a college basketball giant, but evidence of Nebraska’s bright future was reason to celebrate. When the Huskers were backed against the wall, they didn’t quit.
“That’s not the guys what we have on this team,” Ubel explained. “We’re not the kind of guys that are going to quit whenever we hit adversity.”
Ubel leaves big shoes to fill for Nebraska. His career coincided with four down years, a 60-65 record overall. But the forward set an example with boundless passion and great guidance.
“We are going to have to develop some of that,” Miles said when asked about the seniors’ leadership. “That's going to take some time, and it could come at a cost—I don't think there's any question about it.”
Now, Nebraska looks to its future. Miles has recruiting on the uptick while impact freshmen like Shavon Shields and Bennie Parker offer hope with their strong play in year one. There is great optimism for the Huskers’ future.
“The sky’s the limit,” Parker said. “Good things are going to happen for this program. I don’t know when or how soon, but Coach Miles is definitely going to turn this around.”
For the seniors, it’s all over. Still, their heads were held high as they left United Center on Friday evening. They helped better their program’s future.
“It’s definitely on the upward trend,” said Ubel. “Hopefully, we laid a good foundation, and that will keep going.”