Coach Hansen has said it multiple times: in a one-bid league like the Summit League, the goal is to be the most prepared you can be for the conference schedule.
That’s why Omaha can be encouraged by one of their two losses this past week.
On Nov. 14 the Mavericks played their home opener against their Big Sky opponent–the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. Omaha fell short by a score of 76-66.
Northern Arizona finished their previous season with a record of 27-5.
Slow starts were a major reason why Omaha couldn’t keep up. “If you combine the halves, we’re down 22 points at the start,” said Head Coach Derrin Hansen after the game.
“I think it falls on me and Mitch to get the guys ready,” said captain Zach Jackson after the game. “That’s something me and him, we gotta work on, try to be way better by the time conference comes.”
The numbers were fairly even across the board with a couple of exceptions: the Lumberjacks outscored Omaha on second chances 18-10.
“At the end of the game, I thought they made about four or five plays in the last seconds of the shot clock that really got us,” Hansen said.
Four Mavericks scored in double digits, a feat not commonly accomplished for a losing team. Jackson led with 17 points and added seven rebounds. Matt Pile scored a double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Two days later they traveled to Boulder, Colorado to play the Buffaloes of the Pac-12 Conference. Omaha fought until the very end dropping the decision 79-75.
This wasn’t the first time Omaha fell just short against Colorado. In 2015, the Buffaloes beat UNO by a score of 87-82.
The lead exchanged hands a few times in the first half. At the start of the second half, CU scored a 5-0 run. But it was answered by the Mavs who tied the game at 40 apiece. Several lead exchanges later, the Mavericks took a lead of 64-63 with 4:25 remaining. They also tied the game at 70 with 3:07 left.
With 30 seconds to go, Jackson brought the Mavs within two points behind Colorado – but it was McKinley Wright who made two free throws for the Buffs to seal the deal.
Omaha is now 1-3 on the season, but the team knows that the goal is not found in the non-conference schedule.
“We know the ultimate goal is to make the NCAA tournament, to do well in conference play,” Jackson said at 2018 media day. “Just going back, getting better every game… so we compete during conference play.”
The Mavs play Bethune-Cookman in Florida Nov. 20. Conference play begins against Denver at Baxter Arena Dec. 28.