IOWA CITY — Matt Gatens gets another shot at Illinois.
Iowa (16-15, 8-10 Big Ten) has lost a series-record seven straight to their border rivals, and Gatens has played in six of those games. Only 11 days after playing in Champaign, the Hawkeyes and Fighting Illini will meet for the first time in the Big Ten Tournament’s 15-year history.
Iowa, the No. 8 seed, and ninth-seeded Illinois open the league tourney at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The winner will face Michigan State, the league’s top seed, at 11 a.m. Friday.
“It’s one team I haven’t beaten in my career, and I haven’t thought about that yet, but it’s an opportunity to do that,” said Gatens, a senior. “It’ll be on my mind, I know that. I just need to go with that same mentality that we’ve had lately and compete every possession, and it can happen.”
Illinois (17-14, 6-12 Big Ten) beat Iowa 65-54 on Feb. 26. Sophomore center Meyers Leonard scored 22 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in a dominating performance. He had 15 points in the first half.
“We have to do a better job on Meyers Leonard,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “We did a better job in the second half. The first half he really got away from us. He’s real big, but he’s active. He’s long. He’s athletic.
“And I think if we can lock in and give a little bit of help (on Leonard) and get out on 3-point shooters and play a little bit better than we played, we were right there.”
Iowa could deliver the knockout blow to Bruce Weber’s Illinois coaching career. Weber’s future remains in doubt as the Illini have lost 11 of their last 13 games.
“I wish I had all the answers, but right now all we can worry about is the Big Ten Tournament and coming and playing our butts off,” Weber said Sunday after Illinois lost to Wisconsin. “We can.”