For the UNO Men's Basketball team, 2011-12 is a difficult season. It is not hard because of the quality of the schedule. It is not hard because the roster was recruited with Division II in mind. It is not even hard because in-town competitor Creighton is 21-2, ranked in the top 15, and robbing UNO of any local attention moving to D-I would have provided this year.
For UNO the difficulty is in how diverse this schedule and season is. UNO has played at a team from the Big 10 (Michigan State) and at a team from the GPAC (Briar Cliff). One road trip featured games played against Colorado State (Division I's Mountain West Conference) and Johnson & Wales (NAIA Division II's Association of Independent Institutions). One night you are playing a future NBA player (Deonte Burton of Nevada), the next it is a bunch of players even D-II schools were not interested in. How does a team go from trying to be David one night to being Goliath the next?
Wednesday night UNO was Goliath. The "David" for the evening was Peru State College. Peru State is a school of 1700 in Peru, Neb. (population 569). No big time basketball player "wants" to go here. You go to Peru State because you could not get any interest from a bigger school, you still want to play, and you can probably get some money to help pay for college. The team has struggled and limped to a 1-22 record this year including 15 straight losses. Over the last five years they are 21-122. These are the kinds of schools that UNO should roll through and get the bench plenty of minutes.
Peru State had to be thrilled with the first half. They had actually matched UNO on the boards, including grabbing over half of their own misses. They shot 46% from the field and would have been very close to the lead if not for 13 turnovers. David had shown up to play and it looked like he might have enough stones to take down "Goliath."
UNO coach Derrin Hansen had decided to try a new approach during the game, playing players in "lines" of five. The starters played 13 minutes in the first half, the backups played 7. They never were out there together; it was two distinct groups. The starters played even with Peru State while the backups were +8 and gave UNO their halftime margin, 48-40.
Three minutes into the second half and David had thrown another stone. A 12-4 run had brought Peru State within two and Maverick fans were beginning to grow tired of seeing the struggle. They wanted David to be crushed, not to make it interesting. Finally, with exactly 16 minutes to go, UNO took control. A steal started a fast break and center John Karhoff finished it by flushing the ball. Over the next six minutes UNO used five fastbreak scores to help build a 22-point lead highlighted by a "Lob-City" dunk by Bill Freeman. Over the final 35 possessions UNO scored 54 points. At one point they scored on 12 straight possessions before missing three shots from close range on the next possession. They then scored on the next five straight possessions.
One of the keys to the second half was Coach Hansen changing his strategy. After seeing the "lines" plan provide mediocre results in the first half he started mixing things up. A few backups playing with the starters provided some real energy and fantastic play in the second half. Coach found something that worked. Once he did, he stuck with it for the night.
In the end, the final 16 minutes was what UNO fans came to see. High-flying fast paced action. UNO showed their physical superiority and the talent difference between the two teams. Peru State probably ran out of gas some. Everyone knows that David probably would not have beaten Goliath in a long fight. He had to win it quickly; a long fight favors the better fighter. Peru State fans were satisfied that David, who was never given any chance to win, hung with Goliath for a while.
It will be a while before UNO is David again; they have the role of Goliath in the next few games. Someday soon, though, UNO is going to line up against someone they have no business beating. UNO will be David; the opponent will be Goliath. When that battle comes, we will cheer every basket and be content with hanging in it for a while. We will dream of the upset but not expect it. After all, Goliath usually wins. That is why he is Goliath. And we know how that feels too.
at NEBRASKA-OMAHA 106, PERU STATE 71 02/01/2012
NEBRASKA-OMAHA 7-15 (0-0) -- M. Albers 7-12 2-3 17; J. Karhoff 8-17 1-2 17; M. Hagerbaumer 1-2 1-2 3; C. Carter 3-6 0-0 6; A. Welhouse 2-10 4-4 9; C. Steffensmeier 2-8 0-0 6; J. Coleman 7-9 0-0 15; M. Farr 3-10 1-2 9; B. Freeman 8-11 0-0 17; J. Ring 2-5 0-0 4; T. Egli 1-5 0-0 3. Totals 44-95 9-13 106.
Three-point goals: - , NEBO 9-26 (C. Carter 0-1; J. Coleman 1-1; C. Steffensmeier 2-4; B. Freeman 1-3; T. Egli 1-3; M. Albers 1-3; A. Welhouse 1-4; M. Farr 2-7); Rebounds: , NEBO 50 (A. Welhouse 10); Assists: , NEBO 22 (C. Steffensmeier 6); Total Fouls -- , NEBO 12; Fouled Out: -; NEBO-None.