Hawkeyes using next 14 (practice) days wisely

Feb. 19, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa — There is less than a month before first-round games of the NCAA and NIT tournaments begin March 17, but the University of Iowa men’s basketball team isn’t fixated on that.

“Postseason is a good experience for a young team, but we’re not really talking about that right now,” UI head coach Todd Lickliter said. “We have to get better today and this group has an impressive approach.”

Lickliter and his squad are focusing on the numbers 14 and six.

“We have 14 practice days, six guaranteed games — and a possible nine — and what we need to do is seize the opportunity,” Lickliter said at a media conference Thursday in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena press room.

“It’s a good opportunity for us and a chance to see if we can continue to work hard and finish strong and see what happens. As long as there’s that opportunity, you have to do everything you can to seize it. It won’t just happen, we’re not going to try to luck into it, we’re going to use those 14 days very wisely.”

The Hawkeyes (13-13 overall, 3-10 Big Ten Conference) host Michigan (16-10, 6-7) on Sunday, Feb. 22, with a 4:05 tip inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Wolverines prevailed 64-49 on Jan. 11 in Ann Arbor.

“(Michigan) has changed its lineup a little bit, but there are still some constants,” Lickliter said. “They like to back-door you, they like to pop their bigs, they are very effective in the half court. Manny Harris is terrific, but he’s not alone out there. You’ve got good personnel and you’ve got (head coach) John Beilein and they’re playing a 1-3-1 on makes and that’s always a challenge.”

Harris, a sophomore guard, averages 17.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

Lickliter laughed when asked for a medical update on his players.

“That will be a little while if you want me to go through all that,” he said. “Cyrus (Tate) is day-to-day. It’s hard for him to stand up on his toes, but he’s better. At this rate, he’s going to be ready for RAGBRAI because he’s been on the bike a lot, so he can ride across Iowa. Jeff (Peterson) is sore, but working hard. We hope to get him back, but I don’t know if we’ll have him back Sunday. I don’t foresee him practicing this week. Maybe there’s a part of (Jake Kelly) that doesn’t hurt, I don’t know. He gets knocked around. It sure was a courageous effort the other day. I think everything is tolerable for the rest of them.”

Even with injuries to key players and a roster of youth, Lickliter will not sacrifice the rest of this season in order to plan for 2009-10.

“I’m going to prepare to win every game,” Lickliter said. “Our focus is to improve today. Get better today and prepare for the next game. We’re going to compete this year, this is important for us. That’s a lesson that everybody ought to learn.”

The way the Big Ten Conference teams play defense has impressed Lickliter. He said the Hawkeye fans seem to appreciate defensive effort as well.

“If you’re going to win, you better be able to guard,” he said. “There’s a lot of fun in being able to defend. We had three great plays the other day and all three were drawing charges. They were just terrific plays. When you consider the consequences of not doing the little things, you realize there are no little things. I think our fans showed appreciation for the way we played the other day and I can’t thank them enough for that.”

UI freshman Matt Gatens continues to lead the Big Ten in free throw percentage (60 of 65, .923). As a team, the Hawkeyes are second in free throw percentage (.745) and rebounding defense (limiting opponents to 29.3 per game). Iowa is third in scoring defense (58.9).