Alford Wary of Very Good UNI Team

Iowa has dropped two of the last three meetings against Northern Iowa, but they have never lost to the Panthers in Iowa City. The Hawks host UNI tomorrow night, and this might be the best Panther team they have faced. UNI hung 99 points on Iowa State last week in their blowout victory against the Cyclones, and will come to Carver Hawkeye looking to take the advantage in the mythical hunt for the state championship. Read what Coach Steve Alford had to say about his upcoming opponent.

Talk about Northern Iowa's big men and their improvement

Grant Stout has gotten older. He had some experience last year, and he hurt us last year on the backboard. He is a good shooter, he can face you and he is better with his back to the basket. Playing behind Gruber was the best thing that happened for him. He was able to learn how to play that position, now he is making the most of the opportunity that he has.

Coleman has been a great addition for them. To have someone like that get almost 13 and eight for you through four games, and he has done that against good players at Cincinnati and Iowa State, he has had some big games for them already.

Their inside presence was something they were concerned about and other people were saying that might be a place you can go at, just because of the talented guards they have. But the play of Coleman and Stout has been a key for the start they have gotten off to.

How have their guards improved?

I have always liked their guards. Crawford is very special, he is strong, he is a competitor. McKowen is a fierce competitor, as is Jacobsen and he can really shoot it. You have three guards in the starting lineup that can handle it, they can shoot it, they enjoy guarding, and there is good chemistry.

You bring in Foster and Little;those are guys that have done some good things against us in the past. They go five deep in the backcourt just like we do.

What do you think of some of those matchups. Horner vs. McKowen, Haluska vs Jacobsen, Stout vs. Brunner, Crawford vs. Piece and right down the line.

I think there are some great matchups. You mentioned four of them right there. For the first time in the past couple of years, we can talk about bench matchups from our end. What our bench does with Reed and Henderson vs. Little and Foster. How their bench post players, how Godfread compares against Doug Thomas and Alex Thompson.

I think both teams are very pleased with the start of their seasons. You have two confident teams, teams that are playing good basketball and both teams know they can improve. The players have gotten out of the gate, statistically doing some good things, and the role guys have done well.

They had questions about how Coleman would be, and he has done well. We had questions on how well Erek would play, Haluska was out for a year and a half. Those guys have gotten out of the gate pretty well.

Do you see any one or two matchups being key?

I don't know if it's key, because both teams have balance. Both teams have four players scoring in double figures, both teams are shooting the ball well…I don't know if there is a key matchup more so than if out of the matchups, one of them is real lopsided. If someone gets 20 and the other gets four, that is a dramatic difference. But on paper, they appear to be pretty even matchups.

Talk about all of the Iowa players that will be on the floor for this game from both teams, and if before you came to Iowa, if you felt the state produced as much talent as it has in recent years.

I don't know if I really had a perception. We recruited Iowa at SMS. We recruited and got Kurt Spurgeon. We used to come up to the Future Stars camps. My perception was that I always appreciated what happened up here, but I had not been at the major level yet. Then taking over this position, it's important to get guys like Glen Worley, the best players in the state.

Sometimes it goes in cycles to where you don't have an abundance like you might in Indiana, Michigan or Illinois, where you have 10 to 12 division one players every year. That may not happen every year, but I think you have seen in the last three years…Look at our roster, look at Northern Iowa's roster, Drake has it sprinkled in as well. You can come up with a dozen players over the last three years that are not just playing division one, but they are playing at a high level.

Jacobsen's numbers are unreal. Look at our guys; we have some pretty good numbers right now.

I have always had great respect for the coaches in this state and how players compete in this state, but I think there are cycles as to how many are produced that can play at the division one level, and right now we are in a pretty good run of having three good years here with good talent.

How can you measure the desire factor? Your guys will take it seriously, but you have played Louisville, Texas, and North Carolina, and you have high aspirations. You know how much Northern Iowa wants to beat you. How do you match their desire?

I think we have to and I think we will. I doubt that the desire will have an impact one way or another. I know they will be ready, and I know that we will be ready. We are coming off of a loss to them. They beat us last time we played them, so I know that our guys are hungry and will be ready to play and we have been playing well.

It goes back to taking care of home. That has been a goal of ours since last March, and this is another team that is coming in here to try and get a win on our floor, and it happens to be a team that is in state and an instate opponent that beat us last year.

I know that our desire will be at a high level, too. I don't think that our guys will be thinking that this isn't Texas or North Carolina; there are enough friendships on both teams, and that has an impact.

These guys know one another, they play together in the Prime Time league and they know that the winner gets to talk junk through the summer and the loser has to hear it. We had to hear it all summer long, and that is what makes this game a lot of fun.

What happened in ISU-UNI game?

I may have some reasons as to what happened, but UNI was very motivated and ready to play. That is a tough place to play, especially when they have a good basketball team and UNI has a very good basketball team. It's made up of a lot of instate kids who were hungry for that game. Any time that Iowa State and Iowa come in, that is a big moment. You have to give Northern Iowa credit; they made the most of a very big opportunity.

There were some comments out there before that game (ISU coach Wayne Morgan talking about perhaps not wanting to play both UNI and Drake, also a comment from an ISU player about how if ISU were in the Valley last year, they might have won that league). Do you talk to your players about not putting out comments like that, as other teams read the papers too?

Oh yeah. We try to take care of what we can take care of. There are scheduling issues that you have to go through at a place like Iowa, and when you are playing two Missouri Valley teams, I am not going to play a third, for a couple of reasons.

One, because of an RPI situation and two, out of respect for Drake and Northern Iowa. I have coached in that league and I don't want to play three teams from that league, because that league does not get near enough credit for how competitive it is. I think it's a great coaching league and you have players that not only are good, but they carry chips on their shoulders of trying to prove themselves at a higher level. That is why I had so much fun at SMS, because I don't care if you are playing at Wichita, Creighton, Evansville or at Indiana State, it was a dogfight every night out.

I have great respect for both Drake and Northern Iowa, and I think it's great from the standpoint of our fans and players that we get to play all of our teams. I have no interest in not playing these games. The fans look forward to them and the players from both sides look forward to it.

There is probably more stress on coaches, especially at Iowa when the assumption is out there that ‘well, you should win.' That makes it harder from a coaching standpoint, but I have been in that league enough to know that the assumption is out there, but if we don't play well, I don't care where the game is at, we are not going to win, because we know how hard Drake and Northern Iowa are going to play against us.

Defending three has been a question for you at points this year, and three-point shooting is something that UNI brings to the game. Do you have to go about it as not gambling?

We still want to be aggressive, but we have to be smart. This is a team that can hurt you with a three. So many of them can shoot it; they have six or seven guys that can make it. It's a give and take, because you don't want a post player to get away from you, but they are an outstanding three point shooting team and we know we have to guard that line better than what we have done in the first seven games.

How did you evaluate Ben Jacobsen as a high school player a few years ago?

We really liked him. We were talking about that this morning. I am trying to think about the class he was in. If I am not mistaken, that was the class that Jeff and Bru were in, so the class we had there…I can't remember if it was a numbers issue, but I remember following him and liking him and I really thought he was a player after seeing him in the state tournament. If we can turn it back, I wish we could have upped what we did there, but you have to give Northern Iowa credit. Coach McDermott has done a nice job in targeting some guys that have not gotten a lot of attention from Iowa or Iowa State early, and have done a good job of cultivating those relationships early to where the kids believe at the time they become juniors and seniors. You have to give their coaching staff credit, because they have a tremendous player there.

He is hardnosed, he can guard, he can shoot it, he can take it off the dribble, and he does it against everybody. Cincinnati, Georgia Tech in the NCAA tournament. He and Crawford are arguably two of the better guards in the MVC. Those two are special players.

NOTE: The first 2,000 Iowa fans into Carver Hawkeye Arena for the UNI game will receive a patch commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Kinnick Stadium. The patch can provide benefits such as $10 off select men's basketball games, FREE admission to select women's games, wrestling events, and select softball and baseball games, a chance to win a FREE trip for two to the Capital One Bowl and more. You can also purchase the patch for $10 at your local Hy-Vee store.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and tickets are still available. Call 1.800.IA.HAWKS or visit www.hawkeyesports.com


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