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Gatens hoping to get back on scoring track

BY BEN SCHUFF | DECEMBER 16, 2011 7:20 AM

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Matt Gatens knows he hasn't been as offensively effective as Iowa needs him to be over the past four games. In fact, he can feel the reason why.

The defensive pressure Gatens has faced over the past three weeks has resulted in a bit of a scoring slump for the senior guard.

Excluding the season-opener, Gatens averaged 18.8 points per game in five of Iowa's first six games. Among those performances included a career-high 27 points on Nov. 14 against North Carolina A&T.

But since facing Clemson on Nov. 29, the senior guard is only averaging 8.5 points per game. His highest output during the current stretch was 11 at Iowa State on Dec. 9.

Part of the reason for his recent struggles, Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said, is that Gatens is being "mugged" by defenders.

"He can't even breathe without somebody being right there on him," forward Eric May said. "The last few years, he's been used to that — people basically hip-chasing him the whole game. It may be a little worse this year [and] more intense."

May said another possible explanation is that opponents are focusing more on Gatens this season. Increased attention on one of the Hawkeyes' all-time leading scorers — Gatens moved into 17th place on the all-time list against Iowa State — would explain more than just why he isn't scoring. Gatens is touching the ball less these days, taking four fewer shots per game on average since Nov. 29.

"Teams are trying to limit my touches, limit my looks," Gatens said. "I need to work harder to get open, and attack the hole a little bit more, and try to get to the free-throw line."

What's positive for the Hawkeyes is that other players have stepped up while Gatens' numbers have gone down. Devyn Marble in particular has caught fire, and scored a career-high 21 against Iowa State.

Marble said he thinks the attention Gatens is garnering has opened up opportunities for the rest of the team.

"That's what's getting me so many lay-ups and open shots when I drive past my defender — [Gatens' defender] doesn't really come over and help," Marble said. "If they do, they bluff and go back, so I just keep going.

"We still have to find a way for [Gatens] to score, because he's really good 3-point shooter — one of our best, if not our best, arguably."

But other players said it's vital that Gatens get back into an offensive rhythm. Doing that, players said, is going to require a team effort.

When asked if other teams are being more physical with him this year, Gatens said, "Maybe a little bit. Not a ton." Instead, he reflected on his own play, saying he needs to start making better use of the screens set by his teammates.

Forward Melsahn Basabe said his role as a big man is equally as important as Gatens' effort of coming off the screens.

"I guess the way to get him going is to screen for him. I guess on my behalf I haven't been doing the job of getting him open," he said. "For him to be effective, he needs to get the ball in a position where he can be open. Guys are just all over him for 40 minutes a game, so that's pretty tough."

Follow DI men's basketball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.


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