LINCOLN — Even when real life and athletics intersect, like it has this week with the Nebraska basketball team’s stand against a white nationalist student, the games go on.
And the games have rarely been as important as they are to NU as it prepares for Saturday’s home contest with Rutgers (12-14, 2-11).
By winning six of the past seven and 11 of the past 14, the Huskers (18-8, 9-4) have bolted into fourth place in the 14-team Big Ten and entered legitimate conversations about an NCAA tournament bid.
Nebraska, as the last power conference school without an NCAA tourney victory, doesn’t want to get off track in its mission to end that 0-7 curse.
Yet coach Tim Miles said his team was so “unsettled’’ by the racist video shared earlier this week — falling behind 7-0 in the first 90 seconds at Minnesota on Tuesday wasn’t just because of a one-week layoff — that it wanted to react.
The Huskers, after completing a 91-85 victory, held a team meeting on the plane ride home and even considered boycotting a game. A forfeit to Rutgers, which is 210th in NCAA RPI, would have critically damaged the tourney résumé of Nebraska, which is 54th.
After overwhelmingly voting down a boycott, according to Miles, the players decided to produce a video and to wear warm-up shirts with the words “Hate Will Never Win.’’
“We listened to a lot of ideas,’’ senior co-captain Evan Taylor said Friday. “There were a lot of directions we could have taken. We still don’t know the permanent direction we’re going to take it.’’
As the issue continues to percolate — Miles said men’s basketball wants to stage events to invite others to denounce racism and hate speech — at least six games in the next 19 days lie ahead.
Taylor said dealing with game preparation and a social issue simultaneously won’t be a problem.
“Our team is mature enough to separate the two,’’ said the senior from Cincinnati. “Obviously, it’s a talking point and something that is on our minds.
“But we’re a very focused group of guys. We know what’s important on and off the floor. There’s always a balance to maintain.’’
The focus turns to Rutgers, which has lost six straight games but took No. 3 Purdue into the final seconds a week ago before losing 78-76. The Scarlet Knights lost at home to Nebraska 60-54 in a Jan. 24 game that had five ties and 11 lead changes.
“Rutgers probably defended us better than anybody has,’’ Miles said. “What they did was make us turn the ball over late in the game. That was the disappointing part as a coach.
“We didn’t play well in transition and we didn’t play well when we had a lead and had a chance to put them away.’’
The past two Rutgers games bear out Corey Sanders as a key figure to watch.
In that two-point loss to Purdue, Sanders scored 31 points on 13 of 27 shooting. Two days later, he scored nine points on 1 of 11 shooting in a 22-point home loss to Indiana. Sanders scored 14 points in the first meeting with Nebraska, going 6 of 17.
The Huskers, regardless of opponent, need to clean up some loose ends. The past three opponents have combined to make 43.3 percent (26 of 60) of their 3-pointers.
“We have to tighten that up,” Miles said. “Screen-and-roll defense and how we double-team the post are also things we need to get better at.”
» Junior guard Glynn Watson is 18 points from becoming the 29th Husker to score 1,000 in a career.
» Junior guard James Palmer’s nine assists against Minnesota matched the most of any Husker in coach Tim Miles’ six seasons.
» Nebraska scored 90 points or more in conference play twice this season. The last time that happened was 22 years ago.
» This is Legends Weekend at Nebraska. More than 40 former players are expected for a reception and to attend the game.
Rutgers at Nebraska
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena
Radio: 1600 AM, 105.5 FM
Nebraska (18-8, 9-4)
F Isaiah Roby 6-8 So. 7.7
F Isaac Copeland 6-9 Jr. 13.1
G James Palmer 6-6 Jr. 17.7
G Anton Gill 6-3 Sr. 8.34
G Glynn Watson 6-0 Jr. 11.0
Rutgers (12-14, 2-11)
F Mamadou Doucoure 6-9 Fr. 3.2
F Deshawn Freeman 6-7 Sr. 11.4
F Issa Thaim 6-10 So. 7.4
G Corey Sanders 6-2 Jr. 14.0
G Geo Baker 6-4 Fr. 11.5