LINCOLN — The look on Isaiah Roby’s face last March said it all.
The 6-foot-8 forward gamely agreed to come to the interview room after Nebraska’s worst loss in home history, 93-57 to Michigan. He virtually recoiled at the stat sheet in front of him, then offered these two sentences:
“I won’t forget this. This sucks.’’
Another loss three days later in the Big Ten tournament ended NU’s season at 12-19, with 13 losses in 19 games against league opponents.
Monday was 11 months to the day.
Nebraska (17-8, 8-4) drew four points in the Associated Press Top 25 — a first since November 2014 — and moved into the “first four out’’ category in ESPN’s bracket projections for the 68-team NCAA tournament.
In other words, it no longer sucks to be a Husker.
“It’s a hundred times better than last year,’’ Roby said before NU took off for Tuesday’s game at Minnesota (14-11, 3-9).
“To be playing for something special in February … this my first time doing it in college. It’s been real fun and real exciting. It’s good motivation for us in practice.’’
After playing four times in eight days and six in 15, Nebraska got seven full days without a game ahead of the Minnesota matchup. NU coach Tim Miles said he tried to strike a proper balance between rest and practice.
“It was good to get time off,’’ he said. “They came back well-rested and we had two very good days of practice. Now we need to clean up the aggression part you kind of lose.’’
The time between games also led to some mental exercises.
Said Miles: “I asked the guys a question: ‘What have we accomplished? Do you count winning games as an accomplishment?’ Because I don’t.
“I think they all understood that or at least they agreed with me to my face. I want them to understand what it takes for accomplishment and what the journey looks like.’’
Roby appeared to get it.
“We are the underdog,’’ said the sophomore from Dixon, Illinois. “As of right now, we haven’t accomplished anything. We’ve got to keep that mentality. We kind of have our plan.
“If we want to make the tournament, we’ve got to get to 22 or 23 wins based on our résumé right now.’’
Nebraska posted what looked like a quality win on Dec. 5, dumping then-No. 14 Minnesota 78-68. The Gophers were 8-1 at the time.
But Minnesota has won only five games in the two months since.
Starting center Reggie Lynch, the returning Big Ten defensive player of the year, is indefinitely suspended after it was determined he violated student code rules on sexual misconduct and assault. Forward Amir Coffey, averaging 14.0 points a game, has been sidelined at different times with a shoulder injury. Point guard Nate Mason, a preseason All-Big Ten pick, missed time with a bad ankle.
“It’s not going to feel like the same Minnesota team,’’ Roby said. “They are a totally different style now because they don’t have their big man in the middle blocking shots and setting screens.’’
NU’s Glynn Watson had 29 points and nine rebounds in the first meeting in Lincoln. The Huskers also held forward Jordan Murphy, who averages 17.5 points, to 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting.
Miles, while trying to keep his team’s edge, isn’t afraid to compliment its work entering the final three weeks of the regular season.
“I get encouraged about a team when you see them coaching themselves and taking ownership,’’ Miles said. “I’ve always said the greatest compliment a coach can have is for them to look like they don’t need a coach.
“When you get guys with the mentality of James Palmer and Isaac Copeland and Glynn Watson, they are eager to do the right thing. And the two seniors, Evan Taylor and Anton Gill, are locked in. It’s really encouraging.’’
» The Huskers’ four points in the AP Top 25 came from one voter selecting them 22nd: Terry Hutchens of CNHI Sports Indiana, who before that was a longtime Hoosier beat writer for the Indianapolis Star.
» Miles said some players were sick during the downtime, but all are available for Tuesday. Starting point guard Glynn Watson and scout team guard Malcolm Laws missed some practice time with the flu.
» Nebraska is 58th in NCAA RPI and 61st in kenpom.comrankings. Minnesota is 117th and 90th.
» One more victory would guarantee Nebraska at least a .500 record in conference play. That has happened only twice since 2000 (2008-09, 2013-14).
» Minnesota guard Isaiah Washington was named Big Ten freshman of the week Monday after scoring 15 points on Iowa and 26 on Michigan.(tncms-asset)3a8c3db4-0af3-11e8-a5de-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Nebraska at Minnesota
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis
Radio: 105.5 FM, 1600 AM
Nebraska (17-8, 8-4)
F, I. Roby, 6-8, So., 7.3
F, I. Copeland, 6-9, Jr., 13.2
G, J. Palmer, 6-6, Jr., 17.6
G, A. Gill, 6-3, Sr., 8.2
G, G. Watson, 6-0, Jr., 11.0
Minnesota (14-11, 3-9)
F, D. Fitzgerald, 6-8, Sr., 3.7
F, J. Murphy, 6-7, Jr., 17.5
G, I. Washington, 6-1, Fr., 7.7
G, D. McBreyer, 6-5, Jr., 10.1
G, N. Mason, 6-2, Sr., 15.7