Feb. 8, 2010
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By David Meyer
IOWA CITY, Iowa — After coming up short, 68-58, at No. 13 Ohio State on Sunday, University of Iowa head men’s basketball coach Todd Lickliter acknowledged the reality of his team’s situation at Monday’s press conference: in a league as solid top-to-bottom as the Big Ten Conference, every game is going to be a challenge.
“We’re playing the best in the nation,” Lickliter said. “It’s really demanding for us to go ahead and get a win, but we’re making progress. We’re a much better team.”
He knows his squad is headed in the right direction and has taken some definite steps forward.
“They’ve approached it the way that they should. They keep fighting, playing and competing and that’s why they’re getting better,” said Lickliter.
Lickliter thinks his young Hawkeyes are starting to get things aligned, but they still need to turn the corner.
“Yesterday it was the turnovers,” Lickliter said. “It seems like each time it’s something else. Offensively, we shot it so well in the first half, yet turned it over.”
Ohio State was able to convert 14 Iowa turnovers into 20 points. There is little room for error when you face teams as good as the Buckeyes night-in and night-out. Lickliter has clearly impressed that fact on his players.
“It’s just a hump we have to get over. We can’t get down; we can’t dig ourselves holes. We’re playing tough throughout the game, we just have bad stretches,” said freshman guard Eric May.
May led the Hawkeyes in scoring Sunday, netting 16 points. Three of his teammates also managed to get into double-figures, which is a good sign. Cully Payne and Aaron Fuller scored 11, while Matt Gatens added 10.
Returning from Columbus, Iowa takes on a new NCAA Tournament hopeful in Northwestern at home Wednesday. Tip-off is slated for 7:36 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Wildcats are 16-7 overall, 5-6 in the Big Ten.
Northwestern has been a surprise in the Big Ten this season. The Wildcats are attempting to receive the school’s first-ever NCAA tournament bid. Knocking them off will be another daunting task for the Hawkeyes.
“Right now, March Madness and the tournament — that’s what everybody’s playing for. Nobody’s just going to roll over.”
UI freshman Eric May
“Right now, March Madness and the tournament — that’s what everybody’s playing for. Nobody’s just going to roll over,” said May.
The contest should be another competitive one for an Iowa squad that is in the middle of a stretch where it plays four games in 10 days. Lickliter said Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody has players with excellent vision — they see the big picture.
“I think they’re really skilled basketball players in a very well-executed system,” said Lickliter.
The same could be said of the Hawkeyes. Four of five probable starters (the same five who started at Ohio State) are underclassmen. Iowa is gaining experience and beginning to gel.
“This is the first year for a lot of us guys playing together, so we’ve become more of a team,” said May.
Iowa will be looking to put its new-found cohesion on display as well as break a four-game losing skid. The Wildcats come into Iowa City winners of their last two.
May was unaware of the type of competition he would face in the Big Ten when the season started, but now he knows what it takes to win.
“You have to take yourself out of your comfort level when you’re training or working out,” May said. “You have to train with more game-like situations.”
May’s skills have advanced rapidly in his first year on a college basketball court. He will be looking to show the benefits of his exacting preparation against Northwestern, where and his fellow Hawkeyes will try to take their performance to the next level.
“We’re playing with some really good toughness and showing some poise,” Lickliter said. “I think we’ve been able to defend with better purpose.”
Iowa has shown improvement, and it will be looking to play a complete 40 minutes on Wednesday night.
The Hawkeyes are 8-16 overall, 2-9 in the conference. They will be looking to even their home record at 8-8 against Northwestern. Iowa has split its last four games inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.