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Huskers' Miles continues building job in new arena

Wednesday - 10/30/2013, 2:47pm  ET

FILE In this Feb. 16, 2013 file photo, Nebraska coach Tim Miles gestures to his players in an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan State, in Lincoln, Neb. Nebraska will have one of the best venues in the nation with the opening of the $179 million Pinnacle Bank Arena, but whether the product on the floor is better in coach Tim Miles' second season is a mystery. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

ERIC OLSON
AP Sports Writer

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Nebraska will have one of the nation's best college basketball venues with the opening of the Pinnacle Bank Arena. Whether the product on the court is better in coach Tim Miles' second season is the question.

The Cornhuskers bring back starters Ray Gallegos, Shavon Shields and David Rivers from the team that finished 15-18 overall and in 10th place in the Big Ten at 5-13.

Miles was encouraged with how his first team finished. With just eight scholarship players, Nebraska had wins over postseason qualifiers Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue in its last seven games.

This season, 10 of the 12 scholarship players are in their first or second years in the program.

"You feel you are in better shape, but you never know," Miles said. "We might make the jump."

The move into the 15,000-seat arena in downtown Lincoln has created unprecedented fan interest. Season-ticket sales were up 95 percent -- from 6,917 to a record 13,500. Nebraska, which averaged 10,352 last season, announced in May that every game would be a sellout.

"I'm not worried about tempering fans' expectations," Miles said. "We should have expectations. That's something we want. If we don't have a program that builds expectations and has people who say, 'What the heck is going on?' sometimes, we're not doing it right."

Nebraska will get a good first test Nov. 8, facing the Florida Gulf Coast "Dunk City" bunch that was the darling of the NCAA tournament.

The move from the Devaney Sports Center to the $179 million Pinnacle Bank Arena follows the opening of a top-notch practice facility in 2011.

Though the facilities issue is resolved, the Huskers are still fighting history. Nebraska hasn't had a player taken in the NBA draft since 1999, hasn't appeared in the NCAA tournament since 1998 and hasn't won or shared a conference regular-season championship since 1950.

Higher-caliber recruits are visiting campus, Miles said, and they are not automatically crossing the Huskers off their lists. Miles said top players need to see one more thing before they commit in high numbers to Nebraska.

"We're not going to get those guys," he said, "until we're winning."

Five keys for Nebraska:

SHOW THE WAY, RAY: Gallegos is the only scholarship senior on the roster and hopes to build on his breakthrough season. A 2.9-point scorer his freshman and sophomore seasons, he averaged 12.5 as a junior and led the Big Ten with 83 3-pointers and 37.5 minutes a game. He shot just 30 percent from long range and is looking to expand his game to take advantage of his team-best 43-inch vertical leap.

IS TAI THE GUY?: Freshman Tai Webster is one of the most ballyhooed Nebraska newcomer in years and is expected to provide help right away in the backcourt. The four-star recruit made the New Zealand national team at 17 and averaged 13.5 points a game against some of the world's best players over the summer. He can play both guard spots.

CAPTAIN PETTEWAY: Terran Petteway's work ethic and competitiveness earned him one of the three captain's spots before he's played a game for the Huskers. The sophomore guard-forward transferred from Texas Tech, where he started 11 games in 2011-12, and was named the Huskers' Lifter of the Year after he added 15 pounds. Miles will be counting on the 6-foot-6, 209-pounder to be able to defend on the perimeter and inside.

BIG MAN NEEDED: If the Huskers are going to compete in the Big Ten, they'll need a big man to emerge. Walter Pitchford made the most of his year on the sideline after transferring from Florida, getting up to 230 pounds with 8 percent body fat. Pitchford can bang inside and has shooting touch from the perimeter. The Huskers also hope to get more out of Sergej Vucetic, a 7-foot-1 Serbian who saw limited minutes playing behind Brandon Ubel and Andre Almeida last season.

SHOOTING SHIELDS: Shavon Shields emerged quickly last season, averaging 9.2 points in Big Ten games to rank seventh among freshmen. The son of former Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl offensive lineman Will Shields followed an 18-point game against Purdue with a season-high 29 against Penn State, and he averaged a team-high 16.5 in two conference tournament games.


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