Iowa men's hoops hits the road
Melsahn Basabe responded quickly when asked about his mental approach heading into in-state rivalry games such as the one in which he'll play tonight.
"It's kill or be killed," Basabe said. "That's it."
The Hawkeyes (5-3) will get their first taste of a true road environment when they play Northern Iowa (7-1) at 7 p.m. in the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls.
Iowa has only played one game away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena so far; the team lost to Creighton by 23 points in Des Moines on Nov. 20. The Hawkeyes have sputtered to a 2-2 record after losing to the Bluejays.
Northern Iowa is 5-0 over the same two-week period, including wins against Providence and at Iowa State.
Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said the first in-state showdown of the season should test his group's toughness.
"[We're] going to really have to concentrate and stay together," he said. "Anytime you go on the road — especially when you're playing a really good team — you have to compete together. That's what I'm looking forward to seeing."
Basabe is excited about going on the road for the first time this season following the team's 75-54 defeat of Brown on Dec. 3. The sophomore said he believes he plays better on the road — a claim his scoring average from last year would seem to back up. Basabe averaged 9.9 points in 18 home contests last year but scored 13.9 points in 13 road games as a freshman.
"I love road challenges. I'm from New York, so I've been playing in hostile environments all my life," the Glen Cove, N.Y. native said. "I just love the energy. I love when everybody is against you, and no one wants you to do well.
"There's nothing like shutting down a hostile crowd."
The Hawkeyes won last year's matchup, 51-39, but they haven't beaten the Panthers in Cedar Falls since 2007. Iowa players said they're expecting tonight's game to be much like last year's, likely featuring the hard-nosed, grind-it-out pace the Panthers like to play.
Statistically, UNI won't open many eyes. Head coach Ben Jacobson's squad ranks 207th nationally in points per game (67), 326th in rebounding (30.3), and 246th in assists (11.6).
Iowa boasts better numbers in all three categories — 76.4 points, 37.1 rebounds, and 15.6 assists per game — but has a slightly lower shooting percentage. The Hawkeyes have connected on 42.7 percent of their shots, and the Panthers have hit on 46.5 percent of theirs.
McCaffery said UNI's offensive depth and the number of shooters the team has was one thing that caught his attention in preparing for the contest. Junior guard Anthony James and redshirt junior forward Jake Koch are the only Panthers to average double-digit points, at 14.0 and 10.1, respectively. But six other players score at least 5 per contest, and the team is shooting 3-pointers at a 38 percent clip.
"Anytime you have a team that has that many guys who can make shots, it's a hard team to prepare for [and] a hard team to defend," the second-year Hawkeye coach said. "We stress this all the time — but it may be as important in this game as in any other — is communication defensively. You have to talk to each other out there."
Iowa forward Eric May had similar thoughts about UNI's deliberate offensive attack, and he said facing the team on its home court will only make coming away with a win more challenging.
"Every in-state game is tough," he said. "They're a good team, especially at home. We're going to really have to bring our energy, bring our focus."
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