Rivals meet as Phoenix invade

By Wes Swietek

It’s a young rivalry, but the Wisconsin-Green Bay—NIU men’s basketball games are as intensely anticipated as the more storied battles between more familiar foes.

It started last season when the Huskies under Jim Molinari enjoyed a spectacular 25-6, NCAA Tournament season. It started because UW-GB handed NIU three of its six defeats, the most dramatic being the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament title game at Green Bay.

With almost everyone back, including All-Everything guard Tony Bennett, the Phoenix have soared to a 17-2 record, 9-1 in the Mid-Con.

And although the rebuilding Huskies stand at 8-12 (5-5) going into Saturday’s 7:05 match at Chick Evans Field House against UW-GB, the anticipation has begun.

“It’s going to take a great basketball game by us (to beat UW-GB),” head coach Brian Hammel said. “They’re so fundamentally sound on both ends of the court—usually you can cheat off somebody but they play equally well on offense, defense and in transition.”

Senior forward Brian Molis has been through the Phoenix battles and knows it’ll take a solid effort to upset Green Bay.

“It’ll be another challenge. We have to play Saturday for 40 minutes,” Molis said. “(But) Green Bay is not unbeatable—Akron (63-62 winners over UW-GB last Saturday) proved that.”

Coach and player agree that the key to stopping the Phoenix is stopping Bennett, the son of UW-GB head coach Dick Bennett.

“They’ve got the best player in the conference in Tony Bennett,” Molis said. “They go as he goes.”

“We’re going to have to go after Tony Bennett and do a great job on him, cut into his efficiency,” Hammel said. “He moves so well without the ball and is so unselfish, it’s tough to stop him.

“When we try to help on him, he finds the open man—that’s what makes him a special player.”

The Huskies have already played against the Phoenix once this season and suffered a 58-43 loss at Green Bay, despite holding an 18-11 lead at one point. Bennett, as usual, led the way with 14 points.