Hurting Huskies glad to be home

By Wes Swietek

NIU students might not recognize the basketball team that takes the court Saturday night against Illinois-Chicago.

Yes, that team in white is the Huskies, the NIU Huskies minus several players (absent because of academic ineligibility or because of off-court problems) and with the football wide receiver starting at point guard.

Since the Christmas break, the Huskies have shuffled so many players on and off the roster that it wouldn’t be surprising to see head coach Brian Hammel consulting a game program before making a substitution.

NIU is down to nine players, including Huskie receiver Vaurice Patterson, Brian Molis, who continues to nurse injured feet, and walk-ons Tim O’Rourke and Gerry Lorenzi.

Yet the decimated Huskies fought Mid-Continent Conference favorites Wisconsin-Green Bay to a deceptively close 58-43 loss at Green Bay Monday.

Saturday’s 7:05 foes at Chick Evans Field House, the Illinois-Chicago Flames, are 3-1 in the Mid-Continent and 6-7 overall. The Huskies are a game behind at 2-2 in the M-C, (4-9 overall).

Hammel feels UIC’s brand of up-tempo basketball will pose a stiff challenge for his thin squad.

“They can really, really shoot the basketball, they’re all athletes,” Hammel said. “Even their big guys can shoot and they play well together.

“Defensively, they play a lot of trapping, full-court, man-to-man—they’re forcing opponents into 20 turnovers a game. They’re a really athletic team.”

And Hammel expects no mercy from Flames head coach Bob Hallberg because of the Huskies’ decimated ranks.

“They’ll trap us and pound the ball inside to get us into foul trouble,” Hammel said. “Our thinking (about a game plan) has been influenced by the depth factor.

“We have to be more selective (about) when we’re going to run …”

The Flames had a three-game winning streak snapped in their last outing, an 81-76 loss at Eastern Illinois.

UIC is led by forward Brian Hill (13.9/4.2), guard Kenny Williams (15.1/2.6), guard Travon Hughes (12.8/3.9) and forward Sean Buchanan (8.4/6.5).

NIU will then face Wright State (5-6, 1-2) Monday at 8:05 in the Mid-Continent Game of the Week to be shown on SportsChannel-Chicago.

“They’re opposite of UIC—they’re big and strong and like to pound the ball inside, but they also trap and have good team quickness,” Hammel said.

The best thing about the games for the Huskies is that they’ll be at home, where NIU has a 3-1 record. Saturday’s game will be the 400th NIU game at the fieldhouse. Since 1957-58, the Huskies are 286-113 at the friendly confines of the fieldhouse for a .709 winning percentage.

“It’ll definitely be good to put on the white uniforms. From here on in … it’ll be a lot easier for us,” said Hammel, who is referring to the fact that eight of NIU’s last 14 games are at home.

One player that Hammel hopes to see on the court Saturday is Molis. The senior guard is leading the Huskies in scoring (15.9) and rebounding (6.7), but sat out Monday’s Green Bay game because of infected blisters on his feet. Molis has been practicing lightly this week and his status for this weekend is uncertain, Hammel said.

NIU leads the all-time series with UIC 5-3, with three wins against the Flames (one in the M-C post season tournament) last season.

The Huskies also lead the all-time series with Wright State 3-1.