Hawkeyes players see Panthers as bigger rival than Cyclones

Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa star guard Peter Jok did his best to elevate his team’s rivalry with Northern Iowa on Wednesday.

First, the senior predicted “there’s probably going to be a lot of trash-talking” when the Hawkeyes and Panthers meet at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

During a later interview in Iowa’s practice gym, Jok got a head-start on that rhetoric.

Iowa's Jordan Bohannon was in a celebratory mood in last week's victory over Iowa State. But the freshman from Linn-Mar said Saturday's matchup with Northern Iowa will feel like more of a personal rivalry.

“They hate us. We kind of hate them, too,” Jok said of Northern Iowa.

It’s because of the familiarity that goes back years between Hawkeye and Panther players. Both teams are loaded with in-state talent. The Hawkeyes have seven Iowans on the roster. The Panthers counter with 10 native Iowans. Both teams figure to have three homegrown players in their starting lineups.

That’s what separates this game from Iowa’s previous one, a victory over Iowa State, Jok said. That Cyclone team didn’t have any native Iowans on it. That rivalry probably is more important to the fans, he acknowledged. Saturday’s game will mean more to the players.

“We grew up playing against them, so I feel like a lot of guys are going to be looking forward to it,” said Jok, who graduated from West Des Moines Valley. “I’ve just got to be a great leader and tell the guys to keep their composure, not let anything get in their head.”

Still, this is an “Iowa Nice” rivalry. Jok also admitted: “I support UNI and Iowa State when they don’t play us.”

Iowa (5-5) and Northern Iowa (5-4) meet only every other year under the current configuration of what is now called the Hy-Vee Classic. But the athletes see each other every summer when competing in the Prime Time League.

Plus, many of them have been going at it on the AAU circuit for years.

“We were talking about that in the locker room the next day after the Iowa State game. We were saying how much of a bigger rivalry we think this is than Iowa State just because there’s a lot more Iowa kids on this team and we’ve been playing with them just through summer-league stuff,” said Hawkeye guard Jordan Bohannon, a freshman out of Linn-Mar. “We all know what they’re going to do and they know what we’re going to do, so it’s going to add a different feel to the game.”

This will be just the third meeting between the eastern Iowa programs at Wells Fargo Arena. The Hawkeyes won in 2012, but the Panthers stymied Iowa two years ago in a 56-44 win. The Hawkeyes scored a mere 15 second-half points in that one.

Iowa sophomore forward Nicholas Baer of Bettendorf said it will be learning how to counteract the Panthers philosophy under coach Ben Jacobson, as opposed to past summertime games against certain players, that will be the key to victory. Northern Iowa will try to force a young Hawkeye team to play at a much more deliberate pace than it is accustomed to.

“I think we’re pretty confident we know what they do in terms of individually, but trying to understand how they try to beat other teams and how they they to play collectively and play as a unit will be important. Just understanding their team and their successes,” Baer said.

“You can kind of use past experiences like that, like what did they do in the Prime Time League, as an indicator. Anytime you can get experience playing against guys that you’re going to go up against in the winter, it’s helpful. But they played against us, too, so I’m sure they’ll use it as well.”

Hawkeyes freshman forward Cordell Pemsl of Dubuque was extremely diplomatic when talking about the Panthers.

“I respect all of them. They’re all great people,” Pemsl said.

“We don’t want to be off-track at all. We don’t want to get into any altercations. We just want to go out and have our mindset be: 'We want to execute our way and do what we need to do to win.'”

IOWA (5-5) vs. NORTHERN IOWA (5-4)

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines

TV/online: ESPN3

Homegrown players for Iowa

*Peter Jok, West Des Moines

Dale Jones, Waterloo

Nicholas Baer, Bettendorf

*Jordan Bohannon, Marion

Ryan Kriener, Spirit Lake

*Cordell Pemsl, Dubuque

Riley Till, Dubuque

Homegrown players for Northern Iowa

Jordan Ashton, Mount Pleasant

*Jeremy Morgan, Coralville

Klint Carlson, Waverly

*Ted Friedman, Ankeny

Wyatt Lohaus, North Liberty

Adam McDermott, Cedar Rapids

Lincoln Conrey, Waterloo

Luke McDonnell, Dubuque

*Spencer Haldeman, Peosta

Tanner Lohaus, North Liberty

*-Probable starter