Gatens enters Senior Day having left indelible mark on program


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Matt Gatens has started 67 games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as a member of the Iowa basketball team. Saturday's contest against Northwestern will be No. 68 and possibly his last.

The senior guard is playing the best basketball of his career entering the Hawkeyes' regular-season finale. He is averaging 15.7 points per game this season, bolstered by a 22.8 average over his last six games — a stretch in which he's 30-of-46 on 3-pointers. His 24 trifectas from Feb. 16 to Feb. 26 are the most in a four-game span by any Big Ten player since the 1996-97 season.

In a radio interview on Wednesday, coach Fran McCaffery said Gatens' entire game is peaking — not just his shooting.

"He's driving the ball better," McCaffery said. "He's getting fouled. He's not turning the ball over. And he's guarding the other team's best perimeter player, and he never comes out of the game. That's pretty impressive right now."

The co-Big Ten Player of the Week honor awarded to Gatens on Monday was the first of his career.

"He is the epitome of character and class, not only in terms of what he's done on the floor but how he carries himself," McCaffery said. "I hope this is just the beginning of what will become a number of different accolades for him."

Besides continuous praise and admiration from his coach and teammates, Gatens' accomplishment-laden career largely speaks for itself. The three-time co-captain's 1,574 points trail Adam Haluska by 4 for seventh among Iowa's all-time leading scorers. He ranks second in school history with 231 3-pointers.

The Iowa City native — who orally committed to the Hawkeyes in ninth grade — has sat only two games in his career because of injury.

Iowa will miss him. Big Ten coaches won't miss preparing for him.

"He's not only one of the better shooters and guards in this league — he's one of the better ones in the country," Indiana head coach Tom Crean said after Gatens scored 30 points in Iowa's 78-66 win over the Hoosiers on Feb. 19. "That's a four-year guy that has been doing it at a high level."

But Gatens would likely trade any statistic, milestone, or honor in order to achieve one thing: postseason play. None of the 22-year-old's 123 career games have come beyond the Big Ten Tournament.

Gatens realizes his career is drifting into its twilight, and he appears to have elevated his play accordingly to accomplish his goal.

"It's coming to an end. It's sad," he said following the Indiana game. "I want to keep playing. I want to make the postseason."

Iowa's already small chance for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid likely evaporated with Sunday's 65-54 loss at Illinois. The Hawkeyes still have a shot at either the National Invitational Tournament or the College Basketball Invitational.

Meanwhile, Northwestern needs a win to help ensure an invitation to the Big Dance. ESPN.com bracketologist Joe Lunardi listed the Wildcats as the last team in the field of 68 after their 75-73 loss to No. 10 Ohio State on Wednesday.

Northwestern boasts its own storied senior trying to will his team into the NCAAs. John Shurna, the school's all-time leading scorer, is averaging 22.7 points over his last six games.

The 6-9 forward will try to spoil Gatens' Senior Day festivities, which promise to be emotional.

"[Hawkeye fans] recognize the contributions by one of the great Hawkeyes of all time, and that's Matt Gatens," McCaffery said. "They've watched him lead this team, [which is] a young group. They've watched him put us on his back for three or four games in a row. I think they'll show up in full force, and that's what we're going to need."

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