Hawkeyes look for strong regular-season finish

March 3, 2008

University of Iowa Game Notes

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Big plays by Dan Bohall and Cyrus Tate helped the University of Iowa men’s basketball team rally past Northwestern 53-51 in the first meeting between the two teams Feb. 19 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Now the Hawkeyes go for the season sweep Tuesday inside Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston. Tip-off is 8:05 p.m.

“We’re going on the road again and playing a team that everybody that knows anything about basketball knows is very well-coached,” UI head coach Todd Lickliter said. “Northwestern presents problems for people. I think a very deceptive aspect of all this is standings, records and so on. Our focus is on this team, on our opponent and being successful on a daily basis.”

Iowa enters the game tied for eighth place in the conference at 12-18 overall, 5-12 in the Big Ten. Northwestern is 11th at 8-19, 1-15. When the teams met in February, the Hawkeyes found a cure for a three-game losing skid. Ironically, Iowa has dropped its last three games — 66-52 at Michigan State, 65-64 at Penn State and 58-47 at home against Illinois. It will be the final regular-season game for the Hawkeyes, who will open conference tournament play Thursday, March 13.

Iowa holds a 42-35 advantage in all games held in Evanston, but the Wildcats have won the last three games in Welsh-Ryan — all on last-second shots.

The strengths of the Northwestern team are still fresh in Iowa’s memory. The Wildcats distribute the ball, they take care of the ball and they excel at shooting from the perimeter. Northwestern leads the Big Ten in three-point field goals made (8.26 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.44). The Wildcats are second in assists (16.56) and turnover margin (plus-3.85) and third in steals (8.22). Iowa counters with the second-best defensive unit in the conference, limited opponents to 58.0 points per game. The Hawkeyes are fourth in rebounding defense, limited opponents to 30.6 rebounds a game.

Craig Moore of Northwestern and Justin Johnson of Iowa are 1-2 in three-point field goals made in all games this season. Moore has made 90 in 27 games (3.33) and Johnson has made 87 in 30 games (2.90). The game will also feature three of the top four “ironmen” for minutes played per game. Northwestern’s Michael Thompson, who is third in assists per game (4.37), is second in the Big Ten in mutes played per game (35.56), followed by Johnson (35.50) and Moore (35.37).

As odd as it may seem, Northwestern — loser of eight of its last nine games — might have more momentum than Iowa, especially since the Wildcats are at home.

“Last week was probably about as difficult a week as I can remember in coaching,” Lickliter said. “It was just disappointing. You should play all the way to the end. And although we weren’t playing for a championship, we were in a position where we were competing for a better position in the Big Ten.”

Following the regular-season finale on Tuesday, the Hawkeyes will have nine days to prepare for the Big Ten Tournament.

“Obviously everybody — I don’t care what the situation is — when you go into a tournament, you feel like you have an opportunity in front of you,” Lickliter said. “That’s the way we’ll approach it.”

Lickliter spent a large portion of his weekly press conference explaining the virtues that a new basketball practice facility would offer his program. He said he would welcome the `classroom’ atmosphere of a practice facility where players could shoot whenever their class schedules permitted. He said Butler had a separate practice gymnasium that the players used “five-percent” of the time, but it was “there and convenient.”

“You had plenty of opportunity to go in and shoot the basketball,” Lickliter said. “We need a practice facility. It impacts preparation and preparation leads to performance.”

Lickliter was asked what personal lessons he had learned after his first 30 games as the head coach of the Hawkeyes.

“I read somewhere a quote that said the only thing worse than learning through experience is not learning through experience,” Lickliter said. “The other one was my father saying to me `It would be a lot easier if you would just listen to me’ when I told him that I might want to learn by experience.”

When asked about the ideal roster size for the 2008-09 season, Lickliter said that 15 was a good number.

“I would rather have lower numbers if it’s not the right guys,” Lickliter said.

The difficulty of an 18-game Big Ten schedule was also mentioned and Lickliter said he felt the slate for the Hawkeyes was “very taxing early.”

“You look at the way it played out and what can I say,” Lickliter said. “It’s the league we’re in and you better be prepared for that.”

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