Second-place UNO has two crucial Summit League basketball games next week in Omaha against conference leader South Dakota State and Purdue Fort Wayne, the team sitting in third.
The Mavericks could be playing for the league lead at that time, if they get by South Dakota on Thursday.
UNO (13-9, 7-2 Summit) outlasted a shorthanded South Dakota team, which used essentially six players, 75-68 at Baxter Arena last month. The Coyotes (9-13, 3-6) have since welcomed then-injured senior forwards Trey Burch-Manning and Logan Power, a Lincoln Christian graduate, back into their rotation.
South Dakota will be the home team when it meets the Mavs again Thursday in a neutral-site game played at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota — home of the NBA G League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce.
It will be the second NCAA men’s game played on the venue’s Heritage Court this season. Nebraska and Oklahoma State met at the Pentagon on Dec. 16. in a nonconference tilt that was won by the Huskers.
UNO isn’t expecting the matchup to be any easier than it would have been if held in Vermillion, South Dakota.
“Even though it’s technically a neutral game, we’re still in South Dakota,” UNO captain Zach Jackson said. “We know they’re a tough team. They’re going to give us everything we want and more. They’ve got a couple of guys back in Burch-Manning and Power, who are good defenders and great players. We’ve got to come with our best effort on Thursday for the games next week to even matter at all.”
The Mavericks been caught looking ahead during league play. UNO coach Derrin Hansen has praised his team’s businesslike approach in conference play on numerous occasions. Win or lose, the Mavs have moved on to the next game with no hangover. They’re coming off a home win on Sunday.
The 90-72 victory over North Dakota came in UNO’s first game after it had its five-game winning streak ended at South Dakota State on Jan. 26. The loss has the Mavs a game behind South Dakota State in the loss column.
Point guard KJ Robinson said UNO can’t afford to slip up Thursday if it hopes to stay in contention.
“Everybody’s competing for a spot,” he said. “Everybody’s trying to make the tournament. Everybody’s trying to climb up the ladder. You’re not going to have any nights off. You can’t take anybody lightly.”
South Dakota will be bigger and more versatile than it was last month now that it’s healthier. Burch-Manning, an all-league forward, returned to the court on Jan. 23 and Power came back a week later.
“I think it’s all about depth,” Hansen said. “I don’t think they played more than seven or so guys here. (Their return) definitely makes them deeper. It gives them two more experienced guys, too. Burch-Manning and Power have played a lot of games in this league and have a lot of success in this league.”
The Coyotes, like UNO recently, have played four of their last five games on the road. They went 1-4 in that stretch, but have the talent to play with the league’s best teams. South Dakota has four double-digit scorers in its starting lineup, and guard Stanley Umude has become one of the Summit’s top young stars.
“South Dakota’s a really good team,” Jackson said. “We’re not taking them for granted at all. They have really good players and have always been a staple of the league since I’ve been here. We know we have to give our best effort with them for sure.”
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