Climbing the pyramid of success

March 2, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Each season University of Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter shares a straight-forward, inspirational pyramid with his men’s basketball team.

“The base of it says `Team first, improve daily,’ Lickliter said at a media conference Monday inside the Carver-Hawkeye Arena press room. “That should be your motivation to put your team first, come in and prepare, and do everything you can today to get better. The next level is `Win the next game one possession at a time.'”

The Hawkeyes (14-15 overall, 4-12 Big Ten) have another opportunity to win the next game one possession at a time Tuesday by hosting Ohio State (18-9, 8-8) beginning at 8:06 p.m. The Buckeyes held on to win the league and season series-opener 68-65 on Dec. 31 in Columbus, Ohio.

Both Iowa and Ohio State have dropped four of their last five games, including road contests Saturday. The Hawkeyes fell 55-49 at Northwestern and the Buckeyes were clipped at Purdue, 75-50. The top four scorers for Ohio State are either freshmen or sophomores, led by second-year player Evan Turner (16.6 points, 7.2 rebounds per game). Buckeye freshman William Buford is averaging 11.3 points a game, setting the stage for a clash between Buford and Iowa’s Matt Gatens, two of the top newcomers in the Big Ten.

“I don’t know if they’ll be matched up,” said Lickliter, who also complimented B.J. Mullens, another Ohio State freshman. “I’m impressed with the freshmen and sophomores in this league and I think Buford’s terrific. Matt has really played well. We’re trying to help him find shots. The way he shoots the three, they’re crowding him a lot more. We need to help in that regard.”

Gatens is second on the UI roster with 11.0 points per game, one point less than sophomore guard Jake Kelly. Gatens has made a team-high 48 three-point field goals, is shooting 90.9-percent from the free throw line, and is second on the team with 112 rebounds (3.9 per game).

“Ohio State is a team that plays predominantly zone and they keep you on the perimeter,” Lickliter said. “We’re going to have to be fresh and make jump shots. They’re long, too. It makes sense to me the way they defend right now.”

UI sophomore Jeff Peterson missed his fourth straight game with a hamstring injury Saturday at Northwestern. Junior Jermain Davis played 12 minutes against the Wildcats after missing contests against Michigan and Michigan State. Freshman Aaron Fuller has a bruise on his right forearm that is not severe enough to keep him out of the lineup. Senior Cyrus Tate missed nine games with an ankle injury.

“Sometimes when you acknowledge when there are obstacles, it’s considered an excuse. I do think injuries have obviously made it more difficult for us.”
UI head coach
Todd Lickliter

“Sometimes when you acknowledge when there are obstacles, it’s considered an excuse,” Lickliter said. “I do think injuries have obviously made it more difficult for us.”

One thing Lickliter will not do is throw in the towel.

“You measure talent in a lot of different ways,” Lickliter said. “I think these guys are talented enough individually and collectively to compete. I want to compete to win.”

When Peterson returns, Lickliter hinted that Kelly may still see several minutes at point guard.

“He appears to have handled that well,” Lickliter said. “I’m really proud of the way he has adjusted. I think he looks comfortable there and he’s really open to coaching. You can be critical of Jake and he respects and appreciates it. I think he’s going to continue to grow in that position.”

During the last four games, Kelly has averaged 21.3 points and 4.3 assists.

The Hawkeyes conclude the regular season Saturday, March 7, against Penn State (20-9, 9-7) inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Tip-off is 1:05 p.m. It will be the final home game for seniors J.R. Angle and Tate. Iowa is 12-3 at home this season.

Lickliter disclosed that the season has been a challenging one.

“I’m proud of some of the things these guys have done — their competitiveness and the way they’ve played in spurts,” he said. “Then not being able to demand of ourselves the consistency required to actually win in this league — that’s the troubling aspect right now.”

Consistency could lead the Hawkeyes to the two final levels of Lickliter’s motivational pyramid: compete for the conference championship and compete for an NCAA Tournament championship.

“It’s very simple, but it’s the structure I think works,” Lickliter said.