Huskies ready to battle better Valpo, UIC teams

By Wess Swietek

It’s round two this weekend for the Valparaiso Crusaders, the Illinois-Chicago Flames and the NIU men’s basketball team.

First up for NIU is a rematch against the Crusaders. But the Huskies won’t be facing the same Crusaders squad when they square off Saturday (7:30 p.m.) at Valparaiso.

The Valpo team that the Huskies beat at Chick Evans Field House 77-66 in January was without star guard Tracy Gipson.

But the 5-10 sparkplug will be on the court as the Huskies hope to improve their 9-13, 6-6 mark. The Crusaders stand at 5-16, 2-8 in the Mid-Continent Conference.

“When we played them the first time, they didn’t have Tracy Gipson,” NIU head coach Brian Hammel said in acknowledging that the second game should be a much stiffer challenge for his squad.

“They’re a good shooting team and are starting to get into mid-season form. They match up well—it’ll be a tough ballgame for us,” Hammel added.

Gipson leads the attack for coach Homer Drew’s Crusaders. The junior guard is averaging 17.6 points per game and 4.6 rebounds.

Valparaiso’s attack is also reliant on the shooting of freshman guard Lance Barker (13.4 ppg.) and 6-5 forward Eric Sutter (11.0 ppg.).

In the Huskies’ January victory, Brian Molis led the way with 24 points while Randy Fens added 13 and Mike Hidden 10. Barker had 19 to lead the Crusaders.

Valparaiso is coming off a 70-56 loss against Eastern Illinois on Monday while NIU is trying to retain the momentum from a 82-77 victory over Western Illinois Monday night.

Both of Valparaiso’s Mid-Continent wins have come at its Athletics-Recreation Center.

The Huskies then round out their weekend action as they travel to Chicago to take on the Illinois-Chicago Flames on Monday at 8 p.m.

NIU also defeated the Flames earlier this season at the field house by an 85-81 margin. Monday’s game will be broadcast live on SportsChannel Chicago.

“(UIC) has been playing really well lately. They are an upperclassmen-oriented team,” said Hammel.

But the Flame that perhaps worries him the most is a sophomore. “One of the most unheralded players in our conference is Kenny Williams,” Hammel said of UIC’s 5-10 guard who is averaging 16.2 points per game.

The Flames are one of the hottest teams in the league with a three-game winning streak before last night’s 69-65 loss against conference leader Wisconsin-Green Bay.

In the last game between the Huskies and UIC, NIU freshman Marlin Simms led NIU’s attack with 16 points—his career-high—as the Huskies had six double-figure scorers.