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Gatens hopes for better trip to Chicago this time around

[ 0 ] February 8, 2012 |

EVANSTON, Ill. Matt Gatens made his annual trek to Wrigley Field to see his favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, in action last summer.

“Played the Phillies,” Gatens said. “Got killed.”

Gatens will try to avoid the same result a few miles north of the Friendly Confines when his Iowa basketball team meets Northwestern at 8p.m. today in Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Much like the lovable losers Gatens roots for, the Hawkeyes have struggled to find success in the Windy City of late. Iowa has lost on six of its last seven visits. The only victory came in Gatens’ freshman season.

“It would be huge for us to go in there and win,” Gatens said. “They’re tough to play against, because of their style, and they’ve got two of the better offensive players in the conference right now.”

The Wildcats are just 4-6 in the Big Ten, but a victory at Illinois Sunday marked the first time they have won back-to-back league games this season. John Shurna is the second-leading scorer in Big Ten games at 19.8 points, and Drew Crawford is fifth at 16.1.

Iowa, 5-6 and 13-11, is also looking for a third straight league win after taking care of Minnesota and Penn State at home last week. The Hawkeyes have struggled to find consistency this season. But Gatens, averaging a team-best 13.9 points, has been a steady force.

“The thing that makes him special is his consistency of effort and his consistency on the defensive end,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “So you’re going to get a very good performance from him, even if he shoots 6-for-15, because you’re still going to get his ability to stop the other team’s best perimeter player, and he’s going to get to the glass, and to the free-throw line, and set an example for our younger guys on how to compete.”

McCaffery, a lifelong Philadelphia Phillies fan, also has empathy for Gatens and other Cub fans.

“I’ll tell you what, I have respect for any Cub fan,” McCaffery said.

Gatens became a Cubs fan as a 9-year-old, the summer of the Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire home run derby of 1998.

That summer, Gatens and his dad, Mike, would spend many evenings at the Elks golf course in Iowa City. They’d play a few holes of golf, scare off trespassing deer with a paintball gun and listen to the Cubs on the radio.

“That’s when he really became a Cubs fan,” Mike said. “After that, he was hooked.”

Matt is excited about the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, and the direction in which his favorite team is headed.

“Theo’s a guy who’s had success, and it’s going to be pretty cool to watch and see how he does, whether it’s developing talent or bringing in the big names,” Gatens said.

THURSDAY’S IOWA MEN’S GAME

WHO: Iowa (13-11, 5-6 Big Ten) at Northwestern (14-8, 4-6)

WHERE: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Ill.

TIPOFF: 8 p.m.

TELEVISION: ESPNU

RADIO: WHO-AM (1040) and Hawkeye Radio Network

STAT LEADERS: For Iowa — Matt Gatens 13.9 ppg; Melsahn Basabe, Aaron White 5.0 rpg; Bryce Cartwright 4.2 apg; For Northwestern — John Shurna 19.6 ppg; Shurna 5.7 rpg; Dave Sobolewski 3.8 apg.

ABOUT THE HAWKEYES: Iowa has a plus-3.5 rebounding advantage in its five Big Ten victories, but is minus-7.7 in its six losses.

ABOUT THE WILDCATS: Northwestern has won six of the last seven games with Iowa in Welsh-Ryan Arena, three of them on last-second shots.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Iowa is the only team in the nation with eight players recording at least 125 field-goal attempts. Northwestern has used just six players in each of the last two games.

— Rick Brown

FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER

Register reporter Rick Brown will provide details from Iowa’s game vs. Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Follow him at @RickBrownDMR

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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