Published Monday, December 23, 2013 at 10:32 pm / Updated at 10:43 pm
BASKETBALL
NU’s Miles confident Tai Webster will get through growing pains
Nebraska at Cincinnati
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati
TV: ESPN2
Radio: 1110 AM KFAB

Tai Webster by the numbers

Points per game: 6.5
Rebounds per game: 2.2
Assists per game: 2.5
Shooting percentage: 37
3-point percentage: 14.3
Free-throw percentage: 56.6

LINCOLN — It won’t show up on the Nebraska men’s basketball injury list, but true freshman point guard Tai Webster’s growing pains are real.

“Gotta get my mind right. I really needed this break. From school,’’ Webster tweeted a few hours after the Huskers’ 77-62 struggle Saturday over The Citadel, the final game before four days off for the holidays.

One play late in that game summed up the 18-year-old New Zealander’s confusion.

With The Citadel extending its defense trying for steals, Webster beat his man off the dribble and found nothing but open floor to the basket. He advanced unimpeded to within three feet of the hoop, then inexplicably fired a pass to a teammate 25 feet away.

That’s a player, NU coach Tim Miles said, with a confidence issue.

“Any guy who passes up a tomahawk dunk for a contested 3 with three on the shot clock,’’ Miles said, shaking his head as his thought trailed off.

“Our point guard play is not where I want it to be. We don’t shy away from that. We’ve got to make it better. We’ve got to make him feel more comfortable. We’ve got to spend more time with him and get him going because the competition is going to get better.’’

Webster arrived at Nebraska in July with one strike against him — the whirlwind of overblown recruiting hype.

ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said Webster would have been a top 50 prospect “if not better’’ had he attended high school in America, and the hyperventilating soon followed.

A look at the current numbers should stop that.

Webster has scored just 13 points in the past five games, dropping his season average to 6.5 points a game, along with 2.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He makes 37 percent of his field goals, 14.3 percent of 3-pointers and 56.6 percent of free throws.

In 16 games last season in the National Basketball League of New Zealand, Webster averaged 18.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists, and shot 50.3 percent from the field, 28.1 percent on 3s and 65.6 percent on free throws.

Miles has faith that Webster will soon shake his funk.

“Tai is the kind of kid who likes to rise to the occasion,’’ the coach said. “I didn’t think he practiced well going in (to The Citadel game). But he’ll learn. I have a great deal of confidence in him.’’

Sophomore Benny Parker has secured the backup point guard spot, and Miles noted Parker’s improvement in one year’s time as a gauge for Webster’s development process.

“Benny is way better this year than last year,’’ Miles said. “Tai is six inches taller and 30 pounds heavier and looks like a Big Ten guard. But going through that experience the first time ...

“I’m not always the most pleasant or easiest guy to play for, either. We put a thumb on them pretty hard. Our expectation is that you play a certain way. Maybe that hasn’t been in his life before.’’

Junior Deverell Biggs also has played some point guard, but Miles sees the 6-footer out of Omaha Central more effective away from the point.

“I think he kind of prefers to be a two-guard off the ball and then making plays later,” Miles said. “So if somebody else is initiating, he’s more comfortable there.”

Webster is spending Nebraska’s time off for Christmas with teammate Shavon Shields in suburban Kansas City. The Huskers (8-3) will reconvene Christmas night to start work for three upcoming road games — Saturday at Cincinnati (9-2); Dec. 31 at No. 25 Iowa (11-2); and Jan. 4 at No. 3 Ohio State (12-0).

“We knew there was going to be some period of acclimation and adjustment,’’ Miles said. “We’re in it. The quicker we get out of it, we’ll all feel better about it.

“But it’s just where we’re at. It’s the state of the program and the state of the point guard spot.”

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht

lee.barfknecht@owh.com    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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