Hartman: Sikma a good mentor for Wolves big men

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 23, 2012 - 6:47 AM

The Wolves assistant coach and former All-Star has seen a dazzling run by Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.

In 1,107 games over 14 NBA seasons with Seattle and Milwaukee, Timberwolves assistant coach Jack Sikma averaged 15.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and was a seven-time All-Star.

So the 6-11 Sikma, who spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach with current Wolves coach Rick Adelman at Houston, now has two great big men in Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic with whom he can share his great knowledge of post play.

Sikma no doubt deserves some credit for the success of the Wolves' 1-2 punch in the frontcourt. Both Love and Pekovic went into Wednesday night's game vs. Utah averaging a double-double over their previous 10 games.

Love was contributing his usual 26.6 points and 16.1 rebounds, while Pekovic added 16.8 points and 10.0 rebounds.

To date, teams haven't had an answer to stop the combination of Love and Pekovic, but Sikma looks for teams to make adjustments the way Philadelphia did Sunday, when the 76ers really focused on the two big men but let point guard Ricky Rubio get open opportunities.

"We're pretty sure that it's going to get a little tighter in that paint and they're going to start packing it in," Sikma said. "Because basically, that 1-2 punch inside with Pek and Kevin has to be limited from the type of performance that happened between those two guys in Houston if the other team is going to have a chance to win."

Friday night, Love and Pekovic combined for 63 points and 29 rebounds in the Wolves' 111-98 victory at Houston.

"We continue to talk about that and how the adjustments are going to evolve on these guys," Sikma said. "But they've shown that they're able to make those kinds of adjustments, and it'll pay off well."

Although he acknowledged their differences, Sikma compares Love, a great rebounder and scorer, with Hall of Famer Moses Malone.

"From a stats standpoint, they played differently," said Sikma, the No. 8 overall pick in the 1977 NBA draft out of Illinois Wesleyan. "Malone was just so tenacious on the board both on the offensive and defensive end. He didn't have the range that Kevin has, but to put up those numbers night in and night out is hard to believe.

"[Love] does it on such a consistent basis. I think the other thing is, even with the condensed schedule, he really understood that if he worked on his body over the summer, his fitness level was raised and his stamina and recovery is better. He's done really well in the fourth quarter. This is the type of season where that's hard to do."

The only player the Wolves have ever had who compares to Love is Kevin Garnett, but I'm confident Love is better at this stage of his career than Garnett was at the same point.

U hockey in good shape

Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia noted that his team controls its own destiny as far as winning the WCHA title.

"There's four games to go in the league right now and we have a two-point lead in the race for the WCHA," Lucia said. "We have clinched home ice [in the first round of the playoffs], which was great to see, and we have a very tough series down at UNO and finish up with Wisconsin at home."

The Gophers' 2002 NCAA championship team had a reunion Saturday at Mariucci Arena, with 13 players in attendance, including current Gophers assistant coaches Grant Potulny and Justin Johnson. It was Potulny who scored in overtime against Maine to give the Gophers their first national title since 1979.

As for the ones not there, Lucia said: "Matt DeMarchi and Nick Angell are playing over in Europe. Obviously, [Keith] Ballard, [Paul] Martin and [Jordan] Leopold are all playing -- that's about five of the six defensive core -- they're still playing in the National Hockey League. Jeff Taffe got called up for the Wild.

"Those are the nucleus that are still playing right now. Actually, [goalie] Adam Hauser was here and he's heading back over to Europe because one of the teams that he played on before wants him to come back and finish out the year."

Scholarship changes

Retiring athletic director Joel Maturi reports that starting next year, every Gophers athlete who signs a letter of intent for a scholarship will be guaranteed four years of aid, rather than on a year-to-year basis as it had been, unless he or she does something out of the ordinary to lose the scholarship.

On another subject, regarding the Gophers men's basketball team losing a number of transfers over recent years, Maturi said NCAA stats reveal that 43 percent of Division I basketball players transfer.

And Maturi also reported that the Gophers athletic department is in the process of putting bids out to hire a group such as IMG to help professionally sell football and basketball tickets. The group hired will get a commission on sales. "We've got a lot of football and basketball tickets to sell," Maturi said.

Jottings

• Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo continues to make a strong bid to land Apple Valley star Tyus Jones, whom he has watched play more than once this season. Tuesday night, Izzo was at Cooper High School looking at Rashad Vaughn, who like Jones is a sophomore being nationally recruited by a number of big-time programs. ... Speaking of recruiting, Draymond Green, the Spartans' potential All-America forward, originally committed to Gophers coach Tubby Smith at Kentucky, but when Smith left for Minnesota he signed with Izzo. Believe me, it is a lot easier to recruit at Kentucky than Minnesota.

• Jimmy Williams, whose lawsuit against the University of Minnesota remains in appeal, is an assistant coach at the University of Memphis under Josh Pastner. Williams replaced Lakers forward Luke Walton in December when the NBA lockout ended.

• The Gophers wrestling team moved up to No. 1 in the NWCA/USA Today rankings after winning the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals. In addition, Cody Yohn was named Big Ten wrestler of the week.

• The NHL named former Gophers forward Blake Wheeler its second star of the week after he had a goal and seven assists over four games for Winnipeg. Wheeler has 36 assists on the season, good for a tie for 13th in the league entering Wednesday.

• While Dany Heatley has 19 goals and 23 assists for the Wild, Martin Havlat, traded to San Jose for Heatley, has been on injured reserve since Dec. 18 because of a torn hamstring.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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