Learning While Competing

Nov. 12, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa — It’s been less than a calendar year since Iowa and Texas-San Antonio played a men’s basketball game inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The teams will tangle Sunday in a preliminary round of the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic with a 5:05 p.m. tip.

It’s the season-opener for the Hawkeyes, who downed the Roadrunners 73-67 in their second game of 2008-09. That victory was No. 2 in a string of five in a row for Iowa.

“(Texas-San Antonio) has a veteran team coming in,” UI head coach Todd Lickliter said Thursday at a press conference. “Everything that I’ve heard and read, they’re excited to come in. They feel it was a close game last year and that they let it get away.”

The Roadrunners start four seniors and a junior, compared to Iowa starting one senior, one junior, two sophomores and a freshman. The projected UTSA starters accounted for 42 points and 10 rebounds during the five-point loss a year ago.

“They’re a year older and they won 19 games last year (against 13 losses),” Lickliter said. “That’s always a positive for a team. They’re a quality opponent.”

UI sophomore Matt Gatens scored 10 points and handed out seven assists during last year’s clash with UTSA. Like the rest of the Hawkeyes, he’s ready to begin playing for keeps.

“We look forward to Sunday when it’s really going to count,” Gatens said.

Iowa’s young team will have plenty of opportunity for growth from Sunday until Tuesday, Nov. 24. During that 10-day span, the Hawkeyes play five times, including neutral-site games against Texas and either Pittsburgh or Wichita State in Kansas City.

“You have to be able to learn while competing and that’s demanding,” Lickliter said. “With a team this age, if you had your choice as a coach, I think you might play a couple games in that stretch and practice more. We’ll deal with it. It’s really good competition.”

The six possible opponents for Iowa’s first five games averaged nearly 22 wins a year ago. Pittsburgh was 31-5 last season and Texas is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation.

“My hope is that the competition will heighten our awareness and will help us focus and to grow,” Lickliter said. “If you do everything you can to meet those challenges, you have to become better.”

Playing five games in 10 days against quality opposition inspires Gatens.

“You have to step it up a little bit and concentrate every day in practice,” he said. “You watch extra film on these teams because it’s going to be a tough stretch coming up. It’s two big weeks for us and we’re looking forward to it.”

Sunday’s game will mark the second time in Lickliter’s three seasons here where a freshman has started at point guard. In 2007, rookie Jeff Peterson got the nod, scoring 12 points with nine assists during a 58-43 win against Idaho State. During a 23-point exhibition win against Marian (Ind.) on Sunday, current Hawkeye freshman Cully Payne totaled three points and six assists. Payne is also scheduled to start Sunday against the Roadrunners.

“I like this guy a lot,” Lickliter said. “I think Cully’s very capable. I like his approach. There will probably be some times when he’ll learn some lessons on the floor, but he’s skilled and has earned the respect of his teammates. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”

Click HERE to purchase online season, mini-season or single-game UI men’s basketball tickets. You can also purchase over the phone at 1-800 IA HAWKS.

Iowa hosts Duquesne on Tuesday, Nov. 17, followed by another home game against Bowling Green on Friday, Nov. 20. The Hawkeyes have three games the week of Nov. 22 — against the No. 3 Longhorns on Monday (Nov. 23), against either Pittsburgh or Wichita State on Tuesday and then a home game against North Carolina Central on Saturday, Nov. 28.

“From there, it’s a sprint,” Lickliter said.

Iowa is undefeated in its two previous season-openers under Lickliter. The Hawkeyes followed the win against Idaho State with a 68-48 triumph over Charleston Southern last year. Iowa has won 31 consecutive season-openers, dating back to 1978.