Published Friday, September 27, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:32 am
Huskers draw big crowd for scrimmage, and get a close call

LINCOLN — The goal at the Nebraska men's basketball scrimmage Friday night, senior Ray Gallegos said, was to “have fun, don't do anything stupid and don't get injured.”

The fun part was accomplished. The rest of it produced a scare.

Sophomore forward Shavon Shields, rising high for a dunk, saw sophomore forward Walter Pitchford challenge him. The 6-foot-10 Pitchford blocked the shot, but flipped the 6-7 Shields onto his back and shoulder.

Shields spent a couple of minutes writhing on the floor as the estimated crowd of 7,500 at Pinnacle Bank Arena went quiet. He eventually hobbled to the bench, left for examination and then returned to watch the second part of the 25-minute scrimmage.

“I think he's all right,” NU coach Tim Miles said. “He got the wind knocked out of him, which is scary. His tailbone is sore.

“It's an unfortunate thing. Everybody gets fired up and (Pitchford) decides to block the one above the rim. It took the air out of the gym for a while, but the guys bounced back. It was a fun night overall.”

Any chance Pitchford, the Florida transfer who led the White team with 10 points and five rebounds, will run a few laps for upending a teammate?

“He'll get a stern talking to. That's already happened,” Miles said. “It's a teachable moment. Shavon's fine. We're looking forward to him practicing, most likely tomorrow.”

For most of the night, Miles shed his “coach” title and became “Maestro Miles.”

The second-year head man, mic'd up and juiced up, turned the opening of the new arena into a Las Vegas floor show with introductions, thank yous and a pep talk for a crowd larger than the Huskers attracted for many past nonconference games.

“The energy level of this place is going to be through the roof,” Miles said. “This is a completely different time for Husker basketball.”

He made that point with humor a little later by interviewing his 86-year-old father, Tip, who had open-heart surgery last winter.

“Last year we played so bad, we gave him a heart attack,” Miles cracked. “But we'll be better this year.”

The level of play in the 15-minute and 10-minute scrimmage sessions was somewhat ragged. The Huskers had practiced for two hours before the public session, and the tired legs showed in the shooting — 7 of 37 combined on 3-pointers.

Newcomer Tai Webster from New Zealand hit a jumper with 16 seconds left to give the Red a 39-37 win. The 6-3 guard had eight points, three assists and three rebounds. Another newcomer, 6-8 Leslee Smith, had nine points.

The 253-pound Smith, recruited for his inside muscle, launched a 3-pointer early in the scrimmage, leading Miles to deadpan to the crowd: “Enjoy that while it lasts, Leslee.”

Miles liked having a chance to work out with people in the seats and the band and cheerleaders on hand.

“I love the setup,” he said. “It sounds great. It looks great. The guys love it. It's just going to take some adjusting.”

Gallegos called Pinnacle Bank “a good shooting gym.”

“The way it is set up, with the crowd so close and the Red Zone right there,” he said, “it's going to help a lot.”

And what about seeing that many people in September come out to watch a team that went 15-18 last season and a program that hasn't reached the NCAA tournament in 15 years?

“It just shows they have faith in us this year,” Gallegos said. “They are expecting a lot from us. We have to keep working hard and hopefully have a good year.”

NOTES: Junior forward David Rivers didn't play because of a foot injury suffered earlier this week. Miles said tests have been inconclusive. ... Nebraska has a Nov. 4 exhibition against the University of Nebraska at Kearney, then opens the season Nov. 8 (Friday) at 8 p.m. against Florida Gulf Coast.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   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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