LINCOLN — Playing major-college basketball as a true freshman is difficult enough.
Add in elbow surgery that forces you to miss three weeks of practice and the first three games. Then tack on a flare-up of that injury that sidelines you for another week of workouts and two more games.
That's why Nebraska's Shavon Shields has started slowly.
But signs of progress are evident for the 6-foot-6 wing as the Huskers enter this weekend's Sun Bowl Invitational in El Paso, Texas.
Nebraska (7-3) plays Central Michigan (6-4) at 6 p.m. Saturday, then will face UTEP (4-5) or Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-9) at 6 or 8:30 on Sunday night.
Shields, son of former Husker football All-American Will Shields, contributed in multiple ways in Nebraska's 59-55 win Tuesday against Jacksonville State. He scored a career-high 14 points, hitting 6 of 7 field goals and both his free throws. He also had three rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.
“That's as good as I've seen him,” NU coach Tim Miles said. “He threw us a lifeline for a long time. He's around the ball a lot.
“Slowly but surely he's getting it. He still hasn't practiced but about 20 times all year.”
Shields said he finally feels like he's getting the hang of college ball after the forced layoff when he ruptured a bursa sac, which became infected.
“I get used to it each game and each practice and every chance I get back out there,” he said.
Senior forward Brandon Ubel said the Huskers want Shields on the floor.
“He understands the game so well,” Ubel said. “He has a good IQ and he understands where to be on the floor instinctively.
“Those things are falling into place now that he's adjusted to the speed of the game and the strength. I have to continue to help him because it's going to get a little faster and a little bit stronger here in a couple weeks.”
Ubel was referencing Big Ten play, which starts with games at No. 7 Ohio State, at home with previously ranked Wisconsin, at No. 2 Michigan and at No. 20 Michigan State.
But three nonconference games remain, starting Saturday night with Central Michigan.
The Chippewas returned one starter from last year's 11-21 team, but are off to a 6-4 start under first-year coach Keno Davis, formerly the head coach at Drake and Providence. Davis spent last season as an analyst with the Big Ten Network and broadcasted a handful of Nebraska games.
Host UTEP is the tournament favorite, despite a losing record.
The Miners, led by former Iowa State coach Tim Floyd, are coming off a 91-84 triple-overtime win against Oregon. Nebraska lost by 22 points at Oregon a week ago.
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