116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson said the time is now to be doing everything at a high level.
After a 2-0 week that included a dramatic overtime win at rival Drake last Saturday, the Panthers (13-9, 9-3) sit just a half-game behind first-place Loyola Chicago (18-4, 9-2), with both matchups against the Ramblers still to come.
“I do think though (that) this time of year, man, there’s a premium on everything you’re doing,” Jacobson said. “What we did at practice this morning. What our guys do this afternoon. Like, there is a premium on everything that’s going on right now.
“This time of year, you’ve just got to be locked and loaded right now, and our guys are doing a better job of that.”
Looking back on the week, Jacobson acknowledged a couple areas of progress.
Most notably on defense — which has been a regular topic of concern during weekly news conferences for much of the season.
Since its loss at home to Drake on Jan. 22, UNI has held its opponents below 70 points in four straight games.
“The last three games now, it feels like we have made and taken a good step forward,” Jacobson said. “We did some things from a scouting standpoint (where) we took some things away and that’s an important part of it, but our communication and our just digging in and having it be more of a priority is a decent way to describe it.”
Along with ramping up its defense, UNI has gotten bigger contributions from seniors Trae Berhow and Tywhon Pickford.
Berhow scored 19 and 16 points in the Panthers’ two games last week while Pickford collected a season-high 12 rebounds — four of them offensive — in the win at Drake.
“When you get to early February and you’re where we are right now — we’re in the mix to win a regular-season championship — I think some of those experiences, you start to feel some of that as a player and you start to lean on some of that as a player,” Jacobson said. “I think Trae’s played great. I think (Pickford) is coming off his best game and he’s played good recently.”
Up next for the Panthers is a home contest against Southern Illinois at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Salukis (12-12, 5-7) possess the Missouri Valley Conference’s top-ranked defense, allowing just 60.9 points per game.
“These guys are tough, man. You’re not the best defensive team in the league if you aren’t tough and these guys are tough,” Jacobson said. “It’s going to be a heck of a ballgame. They play like their coach (Bryan Mullins) played. They look just like their coach.”
Antwan Kimmons will be back on the Panthers’ bench after missing the previous two games (COVID-19).
“He was able to go back in the gym (Sunday) for the first time and was at practice this morning. Feels great,” Jacobson said. “We need him.”