IOWA CITY — Thirty minutes into a competitive in-state basketball game last year, Iowa forward Zach McCabe was whistled for a charge shortly before scoring the game-tying basket at Northern Iowa.
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery and the bench went ballistic, and both McCaffery and an assistant coach were issued technical fouls. Northern Iowa’s Anthony James hit four consecutive free throws to put UNI ahead by six points.
Twenty seconds later, McCabe was called for a defensive foul and tapped away the basketball in aggravation. McCabe was whistled for a technical, and UNI’s Johnny Moran and Seth Tuttle also knocked down two free throws apiece.
In 20 seconds Iowa went from a potential tie to a 10-point deficit. McCaffery later was ejected for comments toward officials and escorted from the floor by a police officer. UNI sank all eight free throws after Iowa technicals and won 80-60. The result continues to simmer with the Iowa players.
“Definitely,” McCabe said when asked if he circled this game on the calendar. “What happened last year kind of leaves a bitter taste in our mouth. We just need to come in ready, and we need to play hard.”
That game took place in Cedar Falls, where the teams won’t meet any time soon. Saturday’s game is held at Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena as part of the inaugural Big 4 Classic. Iowa and Northern Iowa are scheduled to play again in 2014 at Wells-Fargo Arena but not on one another’s campuses.
UNI (6-3) has enjoyed success against its in-state competitors in the past, finishing 5-0 combined against Iowa, Iowa State and Drake last year. Against Iowa, the Panthers have won six of the last 11. Iowa’s players respect UNI the way they do their Big Ten opponents.
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“Anytime you can take care of business in-state it’s a big deal,” Iowa senior Eric May said. “I’ve played with these guys in AAU and stuff. It’s not like — it’s just another game to win — but it’s a little extra when you’re playing in-state teams.”
“Tough players, great players,” said McCabe, now a junior. “They’re as big of a weapon ISU is. We’ve just to look at it the same as playing Iowa State and try to come in ready.”
McCaffery isn’t concerned that some could view a Missouri Valley Conference team like Northern Iowa making its mark on its season by beating his squad from a major conference. After last year’s result and Northern Iowa’s level of sustained success, playing UNI is just as important for Iowa.
“I look at it that we’ve got another good team on our schedule, and we’re trying to beat them,” McCaffery said. “That is really the only way I look at it. It’s a team that without a doubt, in my view, would be one of the top two or three teams in that league.
“I’ll look at it as an opportunity to play another team that I consider to be one of the premier teams on our schedule.”