State Pride on the Line

Dec. 6, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — There is nothing more gratifying for sophomore Melsahn Basabe than going into a hostile environment and silencing the crowd. He’ll get his first chance of the season tonight at Northern Iowa.

“I love road challenges,” said Basabe, who tallied his eighth career double-double in Iowa’s 75-54 victory over Brown last Saturday in Iowa City. “I am from New York, so I have been playing in hostile environments my whole life.

“I don’t consider an environment to bother me. I love the energy, I love when everyone is against you. There’s nothing like shutting down a hostile crowd.”

UI head coach Fran McCaffery likes Basabe’s confidence in approaching road games.

“It’s the only way to do it,” said McCaffery, who has guided Iowa to a 5-3 start. “Anything short of that and you’re not going to win on the road. I hope that he and everyone else to a man accept that challenge.”

The Hawkeyes will face stiff competition at the McLeod Center against a Panther team that brings a 7-1 record and a No. 4 RPI into tonight’s game. The stakes get a little bit higher with the in-state bragging rights on the line.

“It’s huge. There are a lot of Iowa guys, a lot of Iowa pride on the line,” said senior Matt Gatens, who is 2-1 in three meetings against the Panthers. “Especially with a team like UNI that has had a lot of success, it’s a big deal not only to myself but to this team.”

Gatens said he’ll spend some time acclimating the out-of-state newcomers about the importance of the in-state contests.

“We’ll talk to the new guys that really don’t know much about it yet from out of state,” he said. “So they know how much these three games mean to this program and this state.”

Many of the Iowa and UNI players are familiar with each other and friends off the court after playing alongside each other in the Prime Time League in North Liberty. Once the ball is tipped Tuesday, none of that will matter.

“It’s fun to get to know them, but once you get to those 40 minutes, when you strap it on, you’re not thinking about that, you just want to beat them,” said Gatens. “Maybe that’s a little added pride in it. These games mean a lot to myself and this team, and we’re going to prepare and try to get a “W” on Tuesday.”

Gatens knows that the Hawkeyes are facing a tall task in playing at Northern Iowa in their first road game of the season.

“UNI is a real quality opponent, and we respect them,” he said. “It will be a good test for us in a good environment in Cedar Falls. Hopefully we can get it done.”

Tonight’s game is set to begin at 7:05 p.m. (CT), and it will be televised on KWWL with Rob Brooks, Kevin Lehman and Rick Coleman calling the action.