LINCOLN — In its most recent men’s basketball game, Cincinnati’s rebound figure was plus-48.
Read that again. The Bearcats didn’t have 48 total rebounds. They had 48 more rebounds (69-21) than Chicago State in a 102-62 victory. Nebraska is believed to have grabbed that many rebounds in a game no more than twice in the past 60 years.
NU coach Tim Miles, whose Huskers (8-3) play Saturday at 11 a.m. at Cincinnati (10-2), caught that crazy statistic right away.
“If it becomes a volleyball game,” he said Friday, “we’re in trouble.”
Nebraska is last in the Big Ten and 247th nationally in rebounding margin. That’s why Miles said he’s planning to use the biggest lineup combinations possible, depending on matchups and foul troubles.
“That’s a very athletic team,” NU forward Leslee Smith said Friday. “They are fast to the boards and they send five guys to the boards. We’ve been working on box-out drills all week.”
Rebounding won’t be the only issue for Nebraska in its final nonconference game.
Cincinnati is No. 4 nationally in scoring defense at 55.7 points and has held its past 19 opponents through two seasons to 70 points or less. Nebraska averages 73.4 points.
“They do a marvelous job with their pressure,” Miles said. “They make you play at an uncomfortable pace, and it’s hard to replicate that in practice. We play 5-on-6 and a lot of different things. But until we get out there and our guys go through it, it’s going to be tough.”
Then there is this: Cincinnati is 9-0 this season in 13,176-seat Fifth Third Arena. The average victory margin has been 25 points, with the closest an 11-pointer against North Carolina State.
Nebraska’s only true road game so far was an 82-67 loss at Creighton, in which the Huskers trailed by 30 points after 13 minutes.
Smith, in his first season at NU, sees a much better road showing this time.
“We know what to expect now in terms of intensity and crowd,” he said. “We’re learning how to handle that and come out and play with poise and be mature about the situation.”
Smith doesn’t start, but the 6-foot-8, 250-pound junior leads Nebraska in rebounding (6.8) and blocked shots (1.0), and is fifth in scoring (8.4).
Earlier this season, Smith told Miles he thought it would help the team if he came off the bench. He still wants to do that, though Saturday’s game may call for his size and rebounding more than ever.
“I need to do the same things I’m doing now, but just turn it up a notch,” Smith said. “I need to give 10 percent more effort and rebound more and play better defense and box out — all the little things that help win games.”
Miles said a Nebraska victory would do more than simply provide momentum entering Big Ten play, which starts Tuesday at No. 22 Iowa.
“Our goal was to be 9-3 at a minimum going into conference play,” he said. “(A win) would mean we met our goal.
“We knew we were going to have a tough game at Creighton. We knew it was going to be tough in Charleston. We knew we’re going to have a tough game at Cincinnati. But we also knew we had to beat someone people didn’t think we would. This is our last opportunity to do that.”
Guard Biggs suspended
Nebraska will play at Cincinnati without guard Deverell Biggs. The junior out of Omaha Central has been suspended for arriving late for a team film session.
“It was my decision,” Miles said. “It’s a pretty minor incident. Fair or not fair? My decision.”
Biggs also missed the first two games of this season for disciplinary reasons, stemming from a drunken driving arrest. The 6-foot guard is NU’s third-leading scorer (9.3) and averages 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 steals a game in 18.8 minutes.