Looking to Build Some Momentum

Dec. 16, 2010

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Two games before Christmas break, two games before Big Ten play. The Iowa men’s basketball team looks to build momentum before beginning conference play in earnest Dec. 29.

“I think it’s huge, especially going into having a little break for Christmas and holiday break,” said Matt Gatens, who is coming off a 15-point outing in a narrow 75-72 loss to Iowa State on Dec. 10. “It would be good to get two wins under our belt and feeling good about ourselves and having good practices over break.

“It’s just one step at a time though; Drake Saturday and then we’ll go to Tuesday (at home against Louisiana Tech). After that, it is a grind in the Big Ten, so it would be good to get some rhythm and momentum going into the season.”

First thing’s first, however, as the Hawkeyes square off against Drake at the Knapp Center in Des Moines on Saturday. The Bulldogs have won three of the last four meetings in the series with Iowa ending the three-game skid by pulling out a 71-67 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena last season.

The Bulldogs, who started the season 2-4, have won their last two contests to improve to 4-4. True freshman Rayvonte Rice is leading Drake in scoring and assists, averaging 12.3 points and 2.5 helpers, while center Seth VanDeest adds 12.1 points and 5.4 rebounds.

“Rice is tremendous, I really like his game,” said UI head coach Fran McCaffery. “He does a lot of things well. He’s so good going to the basket that he impacts the game in a lot of ways. He does not play like a freshman at all.”

McCaffery knows a few things about high-quality freshmen, as his Hawkeyes are relying on a trio of first-year players — Melsahn Basabe, Zach McCabe and Roy Devyn Marble — to play significant minutes.

In his last game, Basabe flirted with a triple double — in the first half — before finishing with 12 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks. McCabe is leading the trio with 9.1 points per game, while Marble is shooting 46.8 percent from the floor.

“I had great expectations for all three of them,” said McCaffery. “I think they’ve performed incredibly well. As I said from day one, they did not have the luxury to wait their turn and be put in a position where they could slowly develop.

“They had to jumpstart their careers and they were anxious for that opportunity. All three are very, very good players that are going to have great careers here.”

In order for the Hawkeyes to close out nonconference play with some momentum, the team will need Gatens to build on his performance against the Cyclones. The guard scored nine straight and 11 points in the first half before finishing the contest with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting.

“I’ve just got to keep shooting the ball and working hard on defense,” said Gatens, when asked what he needed to do to build on the Iowa State game. “Overall, we need to get a win. It’s another in-state game, our third one in a row, and they’re a quality opponent.”

McCaffery wouldn’t take the bait when asked about the importance of building momentum and confidence heading into the Big Ten season.

“I am trying to get better in the Drake game,” said McCaffery, whose Hawkeyes are 5-5 overall. “I am not thinking about the game after that. I am trying to get our team better.”

If the Hawkeyes follow McCaffery’s lead, they’ll have a great chance of gaining the much-needed momentum heading into Big Ten play with a 7-5 overall record.