Dec. 12, 2012
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Mentioning Wells Fargo Arena and Northern Iowa rouses motivation within the University of Iowa men's basketball program. It is in that venue that the Hawkeyes have an opportunity to right two wrongs Saturday in the Hy-Vee Big 4 Classic in Des Moines.
Last season, Iowa went to Wells Fargo Arena with a 3-0 record to face Creighton; they lost 82-59. Five games later, Iowa traveled to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to face the Panthers, and left with an 80-60 defeat.
"The Creighton game (last year) leaves a bitter taste in your mouth," said junior Zach McCabe. "We've learned from that experience, and have a different mindset coming in. We've been playing well lately, and we have to continue doing that.
"The UNI game is still in my mind. Anytime you lose to a team by 20, and all the stuff that happened, it's motivating for us."
The Hawkeyes won an intense rivalry game their last time out, downing Iowa State, 80-71, in an Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series matchup Dec. 7. Iowa had a full seven days off before it takes the court against Northern Iowa.
"We need to be the tougher team. UNI has the mentality that they're going to be tougher than us. We've been the tougher team lately, and we need to continue doing that."
Junior Zach McCabe
"After a big win like that, you have to stay focused and bring it in practice," said senior captain Eric May. "We did a good job of that."
The Panthers are 6-3 overall, with two defeats coming against No. 2 Louisville (51-46) and No. 19 Memphis (52-47) in the Bahamas. Northern Iowa has won its last three games.
"UNI has a lot of weapons," said UI head coach Fran McCaffery on Wednesday at a news conference in the Media Room inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. "Those are the kind of teams that give you trouble when you're trying to scheme how to defend them.
"They spread you out. Their bigs can shoot 3s, their guards shoot 3s. They've got guys that go by you at every position, and have guys that have been around. It's a team that will challenge us in a lot of ways."
Two Panther players average double figures in scoring and all five starters average at least nine points a game. Guard Deon Mitchell is leading the team with 12.5 points along with 32 assists, while guard Marc Sonnen averages 10 points, making a team-best 25 3-point field goals.
Defense and toughness are staples of Ben Jacobson-coached Panther teams. This season is no different, as Northern Iowa allows 60.4 points, while its opponents shoot 39.1 percent from the floor and 32.4 percent from 3-point.
"We need to be the tougher team," said McCabe. "UNI has the mentality that they're going to be tougher than us. We've been the tougher team lately, and we need to continue doing that."
During Iowa's three-game winning streak, the Hawkeyes have five players averaging in double figures. One of those contributors is freshman Adam Woodbury, averaging 10.7 points during the stretch.
"It's a concerted effort to find him, and he's playing more minutes," said McCaffery of Woodbury's spike in production. "That's been a big thing for him. The more minutes he gets, the more comfortable he's going to be."
Saturday's Hy-Vee Big 4 Classic is scheduled to begin at 1:31 p.m. (CT). Iowa State and Drake follow at 4 p.m. The Iowa-Northern Iowa game will be televised on the BTN with Eric Collins and Shon Morris calling the action.
"If you look at a college basketball fan in this state, they can go Saturday and watch four good teams play for a relatively inexpensive ticket," said McCaffery. "And have a great day watching college basketball."