Hawkeyes soaring into town (Men’s Basketball)

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Northwestern and Iowa are heading in different directions.

The Wildcats have lost six of their last seven games and are in danger of falling under .500 for the first time this season, while No. 19 Iowa sits in first place in the Big Ten, the first time it’s done so in February since 1982.

On Wednesday, NU (10-10, 3-6 Big Ten) will get its first look at the league-leading Hawkeyes (18-5, 7-2) at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The last month has been a struggle for the Cats, as they have won just one game since Jan. 7 – a 78-76 overtime victory at Purdue two weeks ago.

Senior forward Vedran Vukusic said NU has played well in its last two losses against Indiana and Michigan State, but his team can’t be satisfied with just playing well.

“I’m getting sick of saying that we can compete with good teams,” Vukusic said. “We need to win these games. It’s all mental I think.

“We came out slow in the second half against Michigan State – we can’t allow that to happen. If we can withstand that pressure at the beginning of each half, we’re going to be in it until the end.”

Under coach Steve Alford, Iowa has struggled at Welsh-Ryan Arena, losing four of its last five games in Evanston.

“Northwestern has given us fits over the years,” Alford said.

In the last two games, NU has beaten Iowa with last-second shots. Last season the Cats won on a Michael Jenkins 3-pointer at the buzzer, and in the 2003-04 season Vukusic hit a pull-up jumper from 17 feet with 0.7 seconds remaining.

Heading into Wednesday’s game, Iowa is riding a five-game winning streak, including a 94-66 blowout win against Michigan on Saturday. Although the Hawkeyes currently rank as the worst shooting team in the Big Ten, they shot 65 percent from the field and 68 percent from 3-point range in the win over the Wolverines.

For most of the season, Iowa has won with defense. The Hawkeyes lead the conference in rebounding and field goal percentage defense, and are third in scoring defense and 3-point field goal defense.

“They’re guarding much better this year,” NU coach Bill Carmody said. “Besides the fact that they have great players, I don’t think people give them the credit they deserve for being extremely athletic.”

Although Carmody said he has been impressed with Iowa this season, he said he believes his team has shown the ability to beat teams in the top half of the conference.

“I think we can beat any team in the Big Ten,” Carmody said. “Hopefully it will happen (today). I don’t think we played poorly (Saturday) against Michigan State, but we didn’t play well enough to win. Eventually we have to do things good enough to beat these teams. I know we can.”

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