116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Despite a pair of overtime losses last week to Valparaiso and Drake, Northern Iowa’s chances at a Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship remain intact.
With Loyola Chicago (14-3, 5-1) suffering its first conference loss against Missouri State last Saturday and the league boasting the most one-score results of any in the country, the Valley’s parity seems poised to create a frenzied February.
“We don’t have a lot of older guys, but the ones that we do have certainly understand the way this goes in the league,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said Monday. “Whether you win or you don’t, you’ve got to get on to the next thing.
“We’re right in the middle of this thing.”
When it comes to the specifics of his team’s needed improvement Jacobson included himself — pointing out the need to get away from a high ball screen offense run during a late collapse against Drake on Saturday.
He also pointed out that while the team has made a lot of progress since mid-December, the margin for error in conference play is demanding more.
“We’ve really got to grow in that (mental sharpness) area,” Jacobson said. “In the Drake game, our communication isn’t on time so two guys run to one, they throw it back to Wilkins, he makes a 3 because we’ve got two guys standing next to one guy.
“Well, it’s late January. That switch has to be made. Those seven or eight mistakes that give up easy points, those are the ones that we’ve been talking about and watching. We’ve gotten much better, but we’ve got to take the next step in that area.”
UNI (9-9, 5-3) travels to Evansville (5-13, 1-6) Wednesday for a 6 p.m. tipoff at Ford Center (ESPN+).
Since getting blown out, 83-61, at McLeod Center on Jan. 2, the Purple Aces have lost four of their last five games. But they are coming off a 56-53 win at home against Illinois State on Sunday.
“The lineup is different. The freshman (Preston Phillips) has started now and (is) playing more minutes,” Jacobson said. “He’s really done a nice job for them.
“They’re starting four seniors that we’ve played against a lot and then they beat us both times there last year.”
UNI hosts Illinois State on Saturday.