Huskers pose ‘Big’ problem

By Jeff Kirik

In so many ways, today really is a Big Tuesday for the NIU men’s basketball team.

But tonight’s 7 p.m. matchup with 3-2 Nebraska isn’t a big one for the usual reasons; this is by no means a regional rivalry or a battle for a post-season berth.

What makes this contest big is the size of the Huskies’ opponent. Nebraska, a member of the powerhouse Big Eight Conference, will place one of the NCAA’s larger teams on the court at Chick Evans Field House tonight in the second half of NIU’s Big Tuesday doubleheader.

Start with junior center Rich King. At 7-foot-2, King will have to fall in order to look any of his opponents in the eye—he’s six inches taller than anyone NIU will put on the floor. However, King, whom NIU coach Jim Molinari calls a “legitimate franchise-type player”, is no slouch. He leads the Huskers in both scoring (20.4 points per game) and rebounding (9 rpg).

In addition to King, Nebraska will start 6-9 forward Richard van Poelgeest, 6-7 forward Lewis Geter (11 ppg), 6-7 guard Ray Richardson and 6-2 point guard Clifford Scales (12 ppg). True, Scales isn’t towering, but even he will have a height advantage over his NIU counterpart—the 5-foot-10 Donald Whiteside. In all, the Nebraska starters will average 4 inches taller and 18 pounds heavier than the Huskies.

Even if the Huskers get in foul trouble, Coach Danny Nee can go to the bench for 6-7 Beau Reid, 6-8 Dapreis Owens or 7-0 Kelly Lively.

“Nebraska has a very good basketball team,” said Molinari. “They’ve got the size, but they’ve got quickness, too.

“Their program is at the point where we want to be in two or three years in terms of the size and strength of their players.”

Last year, in the first-ever meeting between the two schools, NIU raced to a 32-28 halftime lead. However, the Husker big men eventually wore down the NIU defense as Nebraska cruised to a 71-56 victory. The Huskies shot 30 percent from the field in the game.

Four players will be the key to NIU’s hopes of neutralizing the Husker inside game. Center Randy Fens and forwards Antwon Harmon, Donnell Thomas and Andrew Wells will have to crash the boards harder than they did in last year’s game, when the Huskers won the rebounding battle, 49-33.

Nee said he was impressed by the Huskies in that game. “We have a taller team,” he said, “but we feel Northern has more experience. They have good quickness, they’re good jumpers and they’re very good athletes. We’re a young team and we’re coming along slowly.”

Judging by the scores of the Huskers’ games in 1988-89, “slow” is definitely not a word that should be used in reference to Nee’s squad. Nebraska has put some “big” numbers on the scoreboard this season, including 100-point efforts in each of its last two games. Those performances came against Harvard (117-79) and Pepperdine (104-100) as the Huskers claimed the title of their own Ameritas Classic.

“It’s nice when you can score over 100 points. We really never expected anything like that,” said Nee, whose squad is averaging better than 90 points per contest.

Both coaches claim they are making no special plans for the game.

Molinari said, “We’re really going to have to do what we do well and, let’s face it, we’re a halfcourt team. We’re just going to have raise our notch of intensity that much higher.”

The Huskies are coming off a 71-56 Saturday road loss to Southern Illinois, which dropped them to 2-2 on the season.