March 5, 2010
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By Brandon Swedberg
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The 2009-10 basketball season has been a crash course into Big Ten Conference play for freshman players on the University of Iowa men’s team. Freshman Cully Payne and Eric May are No. 1 and No. 2 in the Big Ten’s freshman class for amount of minutes played.
But the season isn’t over yet. Both Payne and May will have to continue to log the long minutes as the Hawkeyes travel to Minnesota on Sunday to play their final regular season game.
“We’ve got a great bunch of guys here at Iowa,” UI head coach Todd Lickliter said at a media conference Friday inside of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “They are fun to coach, and we are competing but we are lacking the upperclassmen right now. I’m optimistic and I’m excited because we’ve got a big game on Sunday and the Big Ten Tournament is still ahead.”
Minnesota (17-12 overall, 8-9 Big Ten) and the Hawkeyes (10-20, 4-13) will tip at 5 p.m., Sunday, in “The Barn” – UM’s Williams Arena. Both teams are coming off of tough defeats and would like to close the regular season with a win. The Gophers won the last meeting between the two, 86-74, on Jan. 2, in Iowa City.
“I think we are a better team than the last time we played Minnesota,” Lickliter said. “We’ve got a chance to prove it on Sunday. We will need to be, because you can’t compete if you can’t attack the extended defense that Minnesota plays. I believe in us, and we will be aware of what happened the last time we played.”
“We turned the ball over a ton the last game against Minnesota,” Payne said. “As long as we protect the ball and defend their guys, I think we will have a good chance up at their place.”
“Obviously we are young right now, but the extended minutes will benefit us in the future. We have learned not to panic as much as we have in the past. I think we have grown a lot since that game, and it will be a lot different this time around.”
The last time the two teams faced each other, Iowa was led by sophomore Matt Gatens with 14 points, and Aaron Fuller and May both contributed with 13 for the Hawkeyes. If the Hawkeyes are looking to close the regular season with a win, they will need to have more production from their sophomore and freshman classes, the two classes Iowa is the deepest in.
“As freshman, we kind of have to pick our play up on the road,” Payne said. “We have to help our older guys out, but now we are at the point we want to win.”
The freshman mystique was worn away for many of the freshman players, and the drive for wins becomes more important. “As freshman we are learning so much. Right now we want to finish the year strong and build on this for next year,” Payne said.
“Obviously we are young right now, but the extended minutes will benefit us in the future,” May said. “We have learned not to panic as much as we have in the past. I think we have grown a lot since that game, and it will be a lot different this time around.”
The team may be looking for retribution against the Gophers on Sunday, but they still have the taste of a tough defeat against Wisconsin on Wednesday.
“The other night hurt,” Lickliter said. “We went into Wisconsin and ran into a buzz saw. They have beaten three top 10 teams in there [Kohl Center] and have only lost one game at home. It was a tough one and we will have to bounce back against Minnesota.”
The young Hawkeyes will try to put this loss behind them and learn from their mistakes. Even though the Hawkeyes did some things effectively, coach Lickliter does not believe in moral victories. Rather, he believes in improvement and progress on the court.
“These guys are competitors,” Lickliter said. “They want to win and they will go to work for it.”