UNO heads into the IUPUI Gymnasium, also known as “The Jungle,” to face a team that has lost six straight games by at least 12 points and is without its injured scoring leader.
An easy win for the Mavericks in the 1 p.m. game against IUPUI? Don’t count on it.
“We’re not looking past them,” University of Nebraska at Omaha coach Derrin Hansen said. “They’ve struggled for whatever reason, but their backs are against the wall and they’re going to react like an animal backed into a corner. We have to guard against that.”
IUPUI has played the past two games without 6-foot-1 guard Ian Chiles, third in the Summit League in scoring at 15.9 points per game.
In his absence, though, guards Ja’Rob McCallum and Khufu Najee have averaged a combined 35 points per game. The Jaguars also have a skilled post player in Mitch Patton, who can score both inside and out. Forward Marcellus Barksdale is among the league leaders in assists and blocked shots, an interesting combination. And forward Donovan Gibbs averaged 17 points and eight rebounds in two games against the Mavs last year.
IUPUI (5-18, 0-6 Summit) opened the season fairly well, losing to Northwestern at the buzzer and against Missouri after hanging close most of the way. But the Jaguars have managed only two Division I wins and have lost their six league games by an average of 16 points.
Meanwhile, UNO (12-9 overall) hopes to reach the halfway point of the Summit season at 3-4. The Mavs couldn’t hold a double-digit, second-half lead in a road game for the second time in league play Thursday, as Summit co-leader Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne stormed back for an 86-82 victory.
“It was a game we played well in, a game where we really battled,” Hansen said. “I’m not disappointed in that part of it at all. The effort was really good. It’s a possession here and a possession there, and there’s your game.”
UNO dropped its league opener at Western Illinois, despite leading by 12 with 10 minutes left. UNO led by 15 in the first half against IPFW, by 13 in the second half and by 10 with 14 minutes to go.
“We don’t want to make it a pattern,” Hansen said. “But when you’re on the road, you’ve got to be 10 points better than your opponent in order to win by two. I guess we were only (four) points better and lost by four. Sometimes you play well and play hard and it’s not quite good enough. That’s how life works and now we’ve got to turn around and go play another one.”
The Mavs pushed their lead to 42-27 in the first half before senior center John Karhoff was whistled for two fouls in 14 seconds. Hansen sat Karhoff for the rest of the half to avoid a third foul, and IPFW cut it to 44-38 at halftime. UNO’s second-half lead was 56-46 when Karhoff subbed out after picking up his third foul, and when he re-entered the lead was down to 60-57.
“We have to do a better job with John Karhoff out of the game, and that’s on me,” Hansen said. “We run a lot of things through him, and we have to be more efficient when he’s not in there. I’ve got to do a better job of managing that portion of the game.”
Hansen said he hasn’t thought much about how UNO’s recent struggles — the Mavs are 2-5 after a 10-4 start — might affect the team’s postseason chances. Hansen is hopeful that a winning overall record and a top-four finish in the Summit would help his team land a spot in the CBI or CIT tournaments.
“I really want to get through Saturday and then take a look at the last half and see where we’re at,” he said.