Hawkeyes face Panthers first in in-state series


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These next two weeks may not indicate how the Iowa men’s basketball team stacks up with the rest of the Big Ten.

But with state bragging rights on the line in their next three games, the Hawkeyes know the significance of potentially being dubbed the top team in Iowa.

The quest for statewide supremacy begins tonight at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls when Iowa will take on Northern Iowa. It is the first of three-straight games the Hawkeyes will play against in-state foes. They visit Iowa State in Ames on Friday, then return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to face Drake on Dec. 19.

While the Panthers might not be considered Iowa’s biggest intrastate rival, they are the one team Hawkeye players are most familiar with. Both Iowa and Northern Iowa hoopsters take part in the Prime Time League held every summer in North Liberty.

“We’ve played against a lot of them for a while,” said Iowa sophomore Matt Gatens, an Iowa City native. “It’s a lot of fun going up to play against some old friends from growing up playing against or playing with.”

That familiarity certainly makes it easier to scout the Panthers for Iowa assistant coach Chad Walthall, who will once again fill the lead role left open by head coach Todd Lickliter on Tuesday.

The third-year Iowa head coach underwent a procedure over the weekend after suffering from what were described by Iowa Sports Information Director Phil Haddy as “severe headaches.” He spoke with Lickliter’s wife, Joez Lickliter, early Monday morning.

Haddy informed the media on Monday that rumors about Todd Lickliter having an aneurysm, a stroke, or a heart attack were all inaccurate. He was set to be released from the UI Hospitals and Clinics on Monday, and he plans to provide further details at a later date.

In his absence, however, the Hawkeyes had their strongest performance of the season on Dec. 5, beating Prairie View A&M, 80-51. Walthall believes the combination of missing Lickliter and entering this stretch of in-state battles is making his players more attentive.

“Sometimes when your leader is gone, it makes guys just say, ‘OK, now we really have to step up even more,’ and hopefully fulfill that role,” Walthall said. “I think sometimes you just come together and say, ‘We really got to do this together. Our guy’s gone. We got to take care of this.’ From that standpoint, it helps.”

Given that the Panthers reached the NCAA Tournament last year and returned the bulk of their squad, Iowa goes into its first true road game of the season as an underdog.

But the opportunity to play in atmospheres such as the one the Hawkeyes will see in Cedar Falls this evening is what excites point guard Cully Payne.

“I love pressure, and I know some guys favor those teams,” the freshman said about playing at both the McLeod Center tonight and Hilton Coliseum later in the week. “I think they’re great matchups.”

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