CEDAR FALLS — After registering wins in its first two on-campus games of the 2019 Cancun Challenge, Northern Iowa will play the next two at the Hard Rock Hotel in Cancun.
First up for the Panthers is West Virginia (4-0) Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN).
The Mountaineers — who like the Panthers swept their on-campus opponents, Northern Colorado, 69-61, and Boston University, 69-44 — offer UNI (6-0) their trademark challenge of full-court defense and relentless energy and effort in all phases.
“Like all of us, I’ve seen them play before and it’s not going to be any different (with) how hard they play, how hard they (go) full court with their defense, trapping and pressing (and) going to the boards at both ends,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said. “As soon as you hear West Virginia, the first thing that pops into everyone’s mind is toughness.”
With six games under their belt, UNI’s freshmen have been regulars in Jacobson’s rotation — James Betz, Noah Carter and Antwan Kimmons — and got their first extended minutes in an 88-66 win over Cornell College last Wednesday.
Betz responded with a career-high 16 points, Carter scored nine and grabbed six rebounds and Kimmons scored three points while successfully running UNI’s offense.
Despite giving his young bench extended minutes before heading to the Cancun Challenge, Jacobson was non-committal to it continuing.
“When you’re a young guy you’ve got to be so locked in,” Jacobson said. “(Have) the ability to forget about the possession that just happened and get on to the one that you’re in (is key).”
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A win against West Virginia on Tuesday, along with a Wichita State win against South Carolina (or vice versa for both teams) will set up a much-anticipated game for the Panthers against their former Missouri Valley Conference rival. The Shockers (4-0) left the MVC for the American Athletic Conference after the 2016-17 season and haven’t played UNI since.
The Panthers’ other potential opponent, South Carolina (4-1), enters the Cancun Challenge having split its on-campus games. The Gamecocks lost 78-70 to Boston University and defeated Gardner-Webb 74-69.