Challenge gets even tougher Sunday for men’s hoops team

by Tim Klobuchar

The Gophers are banged up, thin on experience and on the bench and reeling from four straight losses, making Iowa precisely the sort of team they don’t want to play right now.
The No. 13 Hawkeyes (14-2, 3-1) will bring their tough rebounding and withering full-court press to Williams Arena on Sunday in front of a national television audience.
While Iowa has its usual array of front court pounders, it also features a precocious, dynamic backcourt in freshmen Ricky Davis and Dean Oliver.
“Oliver and Davis are both explosive players and they add to more pressure and a quicker team,” Gophers assistant coach Bill Brown said.
After playing against the Big Ten’s best statistical defensive team in Michigan State, the Gophers now have to face one of the conference’s best offenses. The Hawkeyes average over 85 points per game, and have outscored their opponents by an average of almost 25.
Logjam at the top
With Purdue’s 68-58 win at Illinois on Tuesday, the No. 9 Boilermakers helped forge a five-way tie for first place in the Big Ten. Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan are all 3-1 in the conference.
“This win keeps us in contention,” Purdue coach Gene Keady said. “We have a loss. Illinois has a loss. Everybody has a loss. It’s wide open.”
While Illinois’ success has been surprising, the team that looks most out of place is Michigan State, which beat the Gophers 74-60 Wednesday night. The Spartans finished in a tie for fifth last season, and they weren’t figured to climb any higher this year.
“It’s been on our minds all year,” Spartans forward Andre Hutson said of preseason predictions. “A lot of ratings had us in the bottom of the Big Ten. We worked so hard last summer as a team — everybody was up here all summer and all fall working hard — and I think it’s really on our minds to win the Big Ten championship this year.”
No Fieldhouse blues
Wisconsin said goodbye to the Fieldhouse, its home since 1930, in grand fashion Wednesday night, trouncing Penn State 76-57. The Badgers led by as many 30 points early in the second half. They now move into the $76 million Kohl Center starting with Saturday’s game against Northwestern.
“I guess if I were to write a scenario for a game to go out on, in terms of quality and style, it would be something like this,” Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett said. “That’s the way I love to see the game played.
“I always envisioned that we could play that way, but we have not been able to achieve that. Tonight we did, at a very fitting time.”
Still the same
Northwestern broke its second-longest losing streak against a Big Ten team when the Wildcats beat the Gophers on Jan. 7 for the first time since 1989, snapping a 16-game skid. But the beat went on against Indiana on Wednesday, when the Hoosiers beat Northwestern 76-58 at Assembly Hall for their 18th straight win against the Wildcats.
“The problem we face right now is guys go on that court playing the name on the other jersey instead of playing the people in them,” Northwestern coach Kevin O’Neill said.
“That’s after years and years of it. It’s up to us, myself, our team, our staff to change it. Unfortunately it’s going to take us a little bit of time. Our players play like they don’t feel like they can win sometimes.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this notebook