The UNO men’s basketball team has put an emphasis on “protecting its house” all season.
With a win Saturday night, the Privateers can continue that effort as they would finish their current three-game homestand with a 3-0 record and improve their overall record at Lakefront Arena to 5-0 this season.
The Privateers (5-5) will square off with Sam Houston State at 6:15 p.m.
“Staying undefeated at home is important to us,” UNO coach Mark Slessinger said. “The players know that winning at home is important for us to build our program and our fan base, and the guys want to keep this undefeated streak going.”
Slessinger knows despite how badly his team wants to continue its winning ways at home, they will be facing a tough test in the 10-4 Bearkats, who are one of the Southland Conference leaders.
Sam Houston State presents a particularly difficult matchup for the Privateers because of a balanced attack with veteran threats who litter the roster. The Bearkats enter Saturday’s game with six players who average at least nine points per game, and five of those six players are either juniors or seniors.
“It’s going to take us having one of our better defensive nights,” Slessinger said. “We know they’re going to play physical, we know they can attack off the dribble. We just have to stay within our principles, and I think we can have a good chance of attacking them in some areas.”
One of the main principles Slessinger will be reminding the Privateers about is their recent spike in turnovers over the past two games. In their first eight games of the season, the Privateers were among the top 25 teams in the nation, only turning the ball over 15 times a game.
But over the last two games, the Privateers have increased to an alarming 21 turnovers per contest, and Slessinger said his team will have to be more secure with the ball if its wants to compete against the better teams in the conference.
“We have to play smarter and tougher with the basketball,” Slessinger said. “I think we got a little loose and outside of what we do in some transition plays. We’ve gotten turnovers and turned it right back over to the other team. We know we’ve got to continue to play smart basketball and do the right things.”
One boost Slessinger hopes his team will get as it enters the meaty part of its conference schedule is the continued improvement in the health of guard Kevin Brown.
Brown, who returned to the lineup in Monday’s win over Lamar after missing three games with a knee injury, went 1-for-7 for three points in his return. Despite his early struggles, Slessinger knows Brown will be a key cog as the Privateers go deeper into conference play.
“He’s got to play within himself and be efficient. That’s what we’re focused on each day,” Slessinger said of Brown, who was averaging 11 points per game before his injury. “He’s got to play like a veteran and like a guy with a lot of poise. That’s important for us.”
It will be much needed, because once the Privateers conclude their three-game home stand on Saturday, they embark on one of their toughest stretches of the season. Six of UNO’s next eight games will be on the road and four of their six road opponents during that stretch have a record of 6-7 or better.
“We’ve got a long stretch where we’ve got quite a few road games,” Slessinger said. “It’s going to be important for us to continue to compete the way we have, but do it on the road and get the win. If you’re going to have a chance to win in this league, you have to win some on the road.
“Our (Dec. 19 win on the road) against Southern Illinois was a good sign for us maturing, and that should help us to know that we can go on the road and beat a good team.”