NIU to host ‘struggling’ Phoenix

By Wes Swietek

Will the NIU men’s basketball team face a “struggling” squad when it meets 17-2 Wisconsin-Green Bay Saturday?

According to Green Bay coach Dick Bennett, that’s exactly what awaits the Huskies in the 7 p.m. match at Chick Evans Field House.

Struggling? The Phoenix have a 17-2 (9-1 Mid-Continent Conference) record which includes a road win at Purdue. UW-GB’s only losses have come at Nebraska (75-68) and with an injured Tony Bennett, by one point against Akron (63-62).

“We have a tremendous record, but we’ve struggled almost every time out,” Dick Bennett said. “We’ve only had one or two easy games all season—it’s been a struggle.”

The coach (father of star guard Tony Bennett) said part of the problem for his squad is that every other team they play is gunning for the Phoenix.

“Teams play well against us, we’ve acknowledged that,” Dick Bennett said. “(Plus) we have some voids … “

The Phoenix almost suffered an insurmountable void when Tony Bennett, 1990-91 conference Player of the Year, Pan Am team member and All-America candidate, fell and injured his back against Western Illinois Jan. 27.

But Tony Bennett has played, sore back and all, in every game since his injury and is averaging 19.5 points per game.

“He provides great leadership. Against Cleveland State (a 92-53 Green Bay victory Monday night), I only wanted him to start to bring us some stability,” Dick Bennett said. “When he was healthy he was playing very well for us, but he does so much, he gets pounded. It’s hard watching him play injured.”

Tony Bennett played only about half of the Cleveland State game and is expected to be less then 100 percent heading into Saturday’s game against the 8-12, 5-5 Huskies.

But the seventh-year Green Bay coach makes no excuses and spares no praise when assessing Saturday’s game.

“I think Northern is a very capable team—I like their players and I like their coach. They are really coming together,” Bennett said.

“I like the attitude and philosophy of (NIU head coach Brian) Hammel—(NIU) will be difficult at tournament time.”

At last year’s conference tournament, the Phoenix beat the Huskies 56-39 in the title game. The UW-GB win was one of the three losses it inflicted on NIU during the Huskies’ 25-6 campaign.

“It’s turned into a good rivalry,” Dick Bennett said. “Last year, Northern could have won all three games—it was that nip and tuck.

“We recognize that they’re going to get us one of these times, so it shapes up to be a real good ballgame.”