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Hawks begin quest to win four games in four days

[ 1 ] March 6, 2012 |

Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery doesn’t want to dwell on trying to win four games in four days at the Big Ten Tournament, but his star player already has embraced the challenge and addressed it with his teammates.

“We talked about it yesterday,” senior guard Matt Gatens said Tuesday before practice. “Obviously, it’s one game at a time.

“But it’s just getting your mind knowing that it is possible.”

The eighth seeded Hawkeyes will begin their quest to win four games in four days when they face No. 9 seed Illinois at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in a first-round game at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

“I suspect it will be brought up at some point,” McCaffery said of trying to win four games in four days. “But we’re just going to try and beat Illinois.”

Iowa is the only team to win the Big Ten Tournament title by winning four games in four days. The Hawkeyes pulled that off in 2001 in Steve Alford’s second season as coach.

Alford led Iowa to the Big Ten Tournament title in 2006 and a runner-up finish in 2002.

Iowa has a 13-12 record in the conference tournament, which started in 1998, with all 13 victories coming during Alford’s eight-year reign as coach from 1999-2007.

Iowa won the conference tournament in 2001 after finishing 7-9 in the Big Ten and the 2002 squad advanced to the title game with a 5-11 conference record.

Gatens and his cohorts finished 8-10 in the Big Ten this season and are 16-15 overall.

“I don’t know what those coaches did or what they told their players,” Gatens said of Alford’s staff. “But it worked. It did something.

“Maybe it’s just that tournament atmosphere. Tournament play is fun. You go play in state tournaments. It’s an awesome atmosphere. It should be fun.”

The 6-foot-5 Gatens led City High to a state title in 2008, but he’s winless in three games at the Big Ten Tournament.

He’s also winless against Illinois, who has won seven games in a row against Iowa and nine of the last 10 from the Hawkeyes.

Illinois has lost 11 of its last 13 games, but one of its victories was a 65-54 decision against Iowa on Feb. 26 in Champaign, Ill.

Meyers Leonard, a 7-1 sophomore center, came off the bench to lead Illinois with 22 points and 14 rebounds in that game, which was the only time the teams met during the regular season.

“Obviously, I would’ve love to be more successful and win more, but we can go to Indianapolis and try to do something about that,” Gatens said.

McCaffery is 0-1 in the Big Ten Tournament, with Iowa losing to Michigan 66-61 last season. However, Iowa only won five conference games and finished 11-20 overall last season.

The Hawkeyes finished .500 in the conference for the first time since the 2006-07 squad finished 9-7 in Alford’s final season.

Iowa also has four wins against RPI top-25 teams this season, including two over Wisconsin.

“I don’t look and say there is not a team in this league we can’t beat,” McCaffery said. “There are some that we didn’t beat. But at the same time, I feel like we can play with everybody that’s beaten us and have a chance.

“You’ve got to make shots, and you’ve got to be the smarter, tougher team on that day.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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