Jan. 24, 2012
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa men’s basketball team made the most of its eight-day break in the middle of its Big Ten schedule.
“They got two days off in that stretch, which they deserved,” said UI head coach Fran McCaffery. “We had such a grind there for a while. We worked on our own offenses, our own defenses and tried to get a little bit sharper. Then we did a lot of situational stuff.
“I am assuming that we’re going to be involved in a lot of close games (down the stretch), (we worked on) making sure we make the right decisions in those situations.”
The Hawkeyes opened Big Ten Conference play with four games against nationally-ranked foes in their first six games. Although Nebraska enters Thursday’s game with a 10-9 overall and 2-6 Big Ten record, the Cornhuskers still have Iowa’s attention.
“As you get into league play, you need the student body. You need the students, the Hawk’s Nest being as rowdy and as engaged as possible. We’ve got to make this place as difficult as possible to win. It’s been that, and it will be even better when our students are engaged.”
UI head coach Fran McCaffery
“Nebraska has our full attention,” said McCaffery. “They have got everybody’s full attention.”
“From the outside looking in somebody might say `You guys got Nebraska, it should be an automatic win’,” said sophomore forward Melsahn Basabe, who is averaging 8.8 points and 5.4 rebounds. “When you really look at it, they’re just as dangerous as a team like Michigan State because everybody is beating each other.”
The Cornhuskers posted an 8-3 record in nonconference action before dropping their first four Big Ten games. Nebraska has won two of its last three games with home victories over Penn State and No. 11 Indiana.
“When they sort of stumbled out of the gate, it really wasn’t a reflection of that team,” said McCaffery. “Two of their best players were injured for the first three games of conference play, and they played three great teams.
“When (Dylan) Talley and (Jorge Brian) Diaz came back, it gave them seven quality players. That’s why you saw them beat Indiana; they’ve got more weapons now.”
The Huskers’ Bo Spencer, a transfer from LSU, leads the team in scoring at 14.8 points, while ranking ninth in the conference with 3.6 assists per game.
“He’s (Spencer) a serious weapon, but he’s not the only thing they have going,” said McCaffery. “(Toney) McCray is terrific, Diaz is a handful and Talley is a double digit scorer. And they’re going to get after you.”
Over the final 11 games of the regular season, McCaffery is looking for Basabe to “do what he does”. The forward is mirrored in his second prolonged slump of the season, averaging four points and 2.6 rebounds over the past five contests.
“Teams are focusing on him now, doubling him and doing some things and taking things away,” said McCaffery. “I’m just trying to get him to go back to doing what he does. And that’s run the floor, rebound and block shots. Don’t try to be what you’re not.”
Basabe is taking McCaffery’s message to heart.
“I need to try and get every rebound,” he said. “That’s what I want to do from here on out. Not worry about scoring or touches, just try to get rebounds.
“I’ve been watching a lot of basketball, and I saw Thomas Robinson (Kansas) last night, and it’s crazy. He got every rebound and that’s how he dominated the game and everything else fell into place. That’s what I could do to help the team most is to control the boards.”
The UI Ticket Office announced a special “6-for-5” deal for UI students Monday, giving students the opportunity to pay $50 for tickets to five games, while getting the Feb. 1 game against Minnesota for free. The first 250 UI students to Thursday’s game will receive a free BTN t-shirt.
“As you get into league play, you need the student body,” said McCaffery. “You need the students, the Hawk’s Nest being as rowdy and as engaged as possible. We’ve got to make this place as difficult as possible to win. It’s been that, and it will be even better when our students are engaged.”
Thursday’s game will be televised on the BTN beginning at 6 p.m. (CT). Jim Barbar and Tim McCormick will call the action.