IOWA CITY — When the Iowa basketball team arrives at Wells Fargo Arena for its game Saturday, Nicholas Baer won’t need a tour guide.
He’s been there before. Quite a few times.
The former Bettendorf High School star, the only senior on the Hawkeyes’ roster, will be playing in his 10th — and final — game in the Des Moines arena when Iowa takes on Northern Iowa in a 6 p.m. clash in what is scheduled to be the final Hy-Vee Classic. It will be preceded by a 3:30 p.m. game between Iowa State and Drake.
Several of the high points of Baer’s career, both at the high school and college levels, have come inside Wells Fargo and he’s hoping to go out with one more big splash.
“I always liked playing there in high school,’’ said Baer, who averaged 14.5 points and 8.5 rebounds while playing six state tournament games there in his junior and senior years of high school.
“I had some success there and I’m looking forward to going back. But I don’t think there’s anything in particular about the court or the arena or anything like that.’’
Baer’s high school success in Wells Fargo has carried over to the college level.
One of his first big breakout games as a redshirt freshman in 2015-16 was when he played 30 minutes and collected 13 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots in a win over Drake. His block total is still the arena record.
The following season, he picked up 11 points and 11 rebounds as the Hawkeyes defeated UNI. Last season he had 11 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and five steals in another conquest of Drake.
“I think it’s just the nature of how each game has turned out,’’ Baer said. “It’s always nice to go back to Wells Fargo Arena. I played there in high school. I think we just had good game plans going into those games and we just executed it.’’
The 6-foot-7 forward comes into today’s game playing some of the best basketball of his career.
He scored 14 of Iowa’s last 16 points recently in a 69-68 victory over Pittsburgh. In the Hawkeyes’ most recent game, he had 14 points and seven rebounds in a 98-84 win over Iowa State.
“A ton of confidence, a ton of swag in his game right now,’’ teammate Tyler Cook said. “You can tell that his confidence is just through the roof. You can tell he’s ready for whatever’s thrown at him … Every practice he brings his A game. Like I said, we’re not really surprised but what he’s been doing is great.’’
After struggling with his perimeter shooting all of last season, Baer has made nine of 15 3-point attempts over the past four games.
“I think I’ve just been shooting with confidence,’’ he said. “Obviously when you see a few go in then you shoot with more confidence. I’m feeling good about it. Obviously, I’m trying to do more than just shoot it. That’s part of my game, but also I think it’s how I’ve been able to play defensively.’’
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery hasn’t been surprised by any of it either.
“I think you're talking about a guy who is now a fifth-year senior who is a really good player,’ McCaffery said. “He is incredibly versatile and is playing really well, playing with great confidence. When you're playing with that kind of confidence, you impact the game in so many different ways and that's what he does.’’
There actually is a player on the Iowa roster who has played more games at Wells Fargo than Baer. Redshirt freshman Connor McCaffery, the coach’s son, played 12 games there during his career at Iowa City West although this will be his first time playing there at the college level.
NORTHERN IOWA VS. IOWA
WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
RADIO: KXEL (1540 AM), WHO (1040 AM), WMT (600 AM)
• Iowa, ranked 22nd in this week’s Associated Press Top 25, has not played since a 98-84 victory over Iowa State a week ago Thursday. Tyler Cook led the Hawkeyes with 26 points and 11 rebounds and Isaiah Moss had a season-best 20 points, 18 of them before halftime. The Hawkeyes outrebounded the Cyclones 44-24.
• UNI survived a close game with NCAA Division III University of Dubuque on Saturday, trailing by 10 points in the second half before rallying to claim a 75-67 win. Freshman A.J. Green not only leads the Panthers in scoring but is 12th in the country with a free throw percentage of 92.6.
• This will be the final game of the Hy-Vee Classic, which will be discontinued after this year. Iowa is 5-1 in the event, losing only to UNI in 2014, 56-44. The Panthers also defeated Iowa State in 2015 and are 2-4 in the classic. Iowa leads the all-time series with UNI 35-10.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
Northern Iowa (4-5)