Iowa next stop in Clark’s prolonged

Michael Dougherty

No missing persons reports have been filed, and he probably won’t be seen on the back of a milk carton.
But Gophers’ guard Kevin Clark and a large chunk of his scoring average have been missing in action since the 62-61 overtime loss to No. 3 Cincinnati on Dec. 16.
And with 12th-ranked Iowa chugging up I-35 on an 11-game winning streak for Saturday afternoon’s game, Clark needs to reignite the flame that torched non-conference opponents early in December.
Minnesota (10-3, 1-2 in the Big Ten) jumped out to a 6-0 start heading into the showdown with Cincinnati, with Clark averaging 21.6 points per game and the Gophers as a team averaging 76.5.
But since the Bearcats held him to eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, Clark has averaged only 12.9 ppg during the last seven games, including a season-low seven in Wednesday’s loss at Michigan State.
Consequently, the Gophers per-game scoring average in those seven games has only been 68.5.
Clark’s play has not been as aggressive as it was early in the season, when he was a force on the offensive end pushing the ball up the court, penetrating and creating his own shots.
Since the Cincinnati loss, his shots-per-game have fallen from 13 to nine, including a season-low five of Minnesota’s paltry 38 field goal attempts against Michigan State.
Gophers coach Clem Haskins said Clark needs to work harder both away from the ball and to get open shots.
“His play has been spotty due to opponents making adjustments,” Haskins said. “He’s been seeing triangle-and-two’s and box-and-one’s, and we have not shown enough patience in trying to get the ball to him.”
With Minnesota having Clark and fellow senior Quincy Lewis representing almost 53 percent of its offense, Iowa comes to town with a squad that is the Gophers’ antithesis.
The Hawkeyes have only one player averaging double figures –senior guard Kent McCausland with 11.7 — but they have eight guys averaging more than 6.6 ppg. And with nine players averaging more than 15 minutes per game, Iowa’s depth is something Davis said is a big advantage.
“I hope we can keep the team at the depth we are at,” Davis said. “(Sam) Okey adds to our depth now. I just hope we don’t have to subtract from our depth due to an injury or something.”
Davis, who will step down as coach after 13 years at Iowa and 28 years in college at the end of the season, is referring to former Wisconsin standout Sam Okey, who transferred to Iowa last season because of a string of troubles with the Badgers.
But after sitting out a year to restore his eligibility, Okey will make his return to the court next Thursday against Michigan State.
Haskins said the addition of Okey will make Iowa an overnight favorite for the Big Ten title.
“There’s not a better big forward in the country than Sam Okey when he wants to play the game of basketball,” Haskins said. “If his attitude is right and he fits the system it will make them the favorite for the league.”
But Okey will not be a concern for the Gophers this weekend (Minnesota will have to face him when they go to Iowa on Feb. 10, however). What does concern Haskins and assistant coach Bill Brown is Iowa’s similarity to the Spartans.
“Iowa and Michigan State each love to push the ball in transition, and they both like to shoot threes on the break,” Brown said. “Iowa is a team which has a flex offense which is going to spread the players out across the floor.”
Davis, meanwhile, said the Gophers present plenty of problems as well, particularly the 7-foot-1 bundle of blocking appendages known as Joel Przybilla.
With eight blocks against the Spartans, Przybilla’s blocks-per-game average is up to 4.84 — tops in the Big Ten and second in the nation — and Davis credits the freshman for Minnesota’s tough shooting defense (35.1, third in the nation).
“Teams have really had a tough time scoring on them, with their inside defense getting a lot of blocks and their outside people forcing a lot of bad shots,” Davis said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”