UNO wants to make sure its game Sunday at Iowa was worth more than $85,000 and two nights of hotel rooms.
The Mavericks return to the court Wednesday for their home opener against Missouri-Kansas City, hoping to capitalize on pushing the Hawkeyes almost to the finish before losing 83-75 in what would have been a stunning upset for the third-year Division I program.
“To have our guys be able to experience a place like that, a crowd like that, I think it's a great thing,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “We'll be better coming out of it, just because that length and athleticism is going to expose some things we need to work on.
“Hopefully we can take that and get better with it, because we turn around and play a game on Wednesday night. We can't let that (Iowa) game be a hangover for us.”
Besides the athletic play of guards CJ Carter and Devin Patterson, UNO's improved rebounding presence also stood out against the Hawkeyes. Yes, Iowa outrebounded the Mavs 49-37, but UNO was outrebounded by an average of 7.5 per game last year and fared far worse against power conference schools like Iowa.
Senior Matt Hagerbaumer grabbed 11 rebounds off the bench, starters John Karhoff and Mike Rostampour held their own, and reserve Simon Kyrch chipped in, too. Those four are all 6-foot-7 or 6-8.
“To be able to go up and get some rebounds against Iowa was big,” Hansen said. “We have more depth in the front court than we did a year ago —we have four guys who can go there for us. A year ago we'd wear down a lot quicker having only two or three guys there.”
UMKC (0-2), which lost Monday night at Creighton 96-70, is in town for another shot at UNO. The Kangaroos departed the Summit League for the Western Athletic Conference after being swept by the Mavs last season.
UNO's initial win over UMKC, last Dec. 31, was arguably the Mavs' biggest of the season.
The Mavs had been dragged down by their extensive early-season travel schedule. Guarantee games, like Sunday's at Iowa, helped the athletic department's financial bottom line, but the hoped-for secondary benefit of elevating the team's level of play hadn't happened — UNO was fatigued and its confidence was shot.
Then South Dakota came in Dec. 29 and humbled the Mavs even further — 95-72 — in their first league home game to put the Mavs at 0-3 in the Summit.
But two days later, UNO jumped out to a 43-17 first-half lead against UMKC, led 59-37 with 12:54 to play, and cruised to a 77-65 win.
“It's not so much who we were playing that day, but how we played,” Hansen said. “Because we hadn't played well (against South Dakota). We were lethargic, we weren't a very good unit, and we didn't battle. The next 48 hours was a lot less about practicing and a lot more about soul-searching. ... I give our guys a lot of credit because we really battled and turned our season around.”
Later in the season, UNO rallied from a halftime deficit to beat UMKC, completing a rare league road sweep after beating South Dakota two nights earlier. UNO wound up sixth in the Summit, exceeding preseason expectations.
UMKC underwent another coaching change in the offseason, with former Louisville assistant Kareem Richardson taking over. The Kangaroos play more uptempo and look to shoot more 3s.
Before the Creighton loss, UMKC opened the season with a loss to Division II Emporia State — a former Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association rival of UNO's. Emporia State, which played UMKC as an exhibition (but it counts as a loss on UMKC's record) is picked to finish ninth in the MIAA.
“Having been in the MIAA, we understand what kind of players are in that league, and then all of a sudden you add a couple of Division I transfers and you've got some really good players out there in a hurry,” Hansen said.