Iowa Hits the Basics, Beats the Gophers

Just when some fans were 'passing in the songbooks' on the 2003-2004 Iowa Men's Basketball season after their crushing home loss to Northwestern on Saturday, the Hawkeyes picked themselves up from the canvass and came out swinging against Minnesota on the road Tuesday night. The result was an 83-68 win at 'The Barn' where Iowa hit 26 of 29 free throws down the stretch to pick up the Big Ten road win, something that has been elusive during the Steve Alford era.



I finally figured it out.

The Iowa Basketball program has MPD.

'Multiple Personality Disorder'. Before we get into a debate as to which player is most like ‘Sybil', let's take a few minutes to enjoy Iowa's win at The Barn, something that just does not happen all that often.

I know that many of you are not running around your houses right now in your boxer shorts because you have been here before with a Steve Alford coached Iowa basketball team.

Some of you may be referring to a game like this as ‘a big tease', much the way last Wednesday's win against Purdue and the mini-euphoria the few days after the win was a tease at around 3:00pm on Saturday.

You have been here before.

But it still does not take away from one of the better half court offensive performances of the Steve Alford era.

Yes, I know that Iowa turned the ball over 20 times, but I don't think they had any more than 10 turnovers in the half court set. Many of those gaffes came from Minnesota's full court press late in the game.

Iowa's first half offensive execution, be it in half court sets or in transition, was just this side of brilliant. In the notes that I took during the game while spending some time with the in-laws and in between my daughter wanting to climb up on my lap and have me leaf through yet another American Whitetail magazine with her (don't ask me why she likes deer, she just does), I see words like ‘outstanding patience' or ‘great extra pass' or great vision'.

In my opinion, Iowa's offensive performance for much of this game, or more precisely, until the 8:51 mark of the second half, was as good as we have seen since Iowa drilled Missouri by 19 points at Columbia in 2001.

I know that some of you will disagree with that statement, but that clearly jumped into my mind at halftime of tonight's game.

The selfless passing that was exhibited for much of the first half was very fun to watch.

I was more impressed with the court savvy that was displayed by nearly all of the Hawkeyes out of their half court sets. Iowa did a fantastic job of flashing a player into the middle of the zone from the back side, making the entry pass to that player, and then that player knew to look to the weak side box for a crashing baseline Hawkeye and for the most part, Iowa was getting some easy looks at the hoop.

And on this night, they converted them.

Clearly, Iowa had prepared to play a lot of zone defense in this game and they were drilled on how to break it down with impressive precision.

One can only hope that they remember those lessons later on this season, as they will continue to face zone defenses the rest of the way.

Jeff Horner was credited with just four assists, a stat that has to be a misprint. His vision was excellent for the most part. Brody Boyd played a fantastic floor game tonight, as did Glen Worley.

Those two players played like savvy seniors and they scored 25 points between them. Boyd added six rebounds and two steals, but his passing was crisp and his decision-making was pretty solid. Same with Worley.

In fact, all of the seniors played well in this game. They scored 49 of the team's 83 points and hauled down 21 of the team's 37 rebounds and they were a combined 21 of 24 from the free throw line.

Now THAT is the type of senior leadership Alford is looking for from this foursome. It is all the more impressive when Glen Worley played 28 minutes, Reiner 17 and Sonderleiter just 22. Boyd played 39 minutes.

As a team, Iowa made 78-percent of its 41 free throw attempts. They made 29 of 37 in their win against Purdue, again shooting 78-percent.

If Iowa shoots better than 70-percent from the foul line in Big Ten play the rest of the way, they are going to win at least eight more games. I think that is a safe thing to say about a team that will continue to go to the line a lot.

Jeff Horner was clearly the catalyst tonight, getting Iowa off to a solid start as he hit back to back three point shots to open Iowa's scoring. Horner finished with a career best 23 points, including 10 of 11 from the line.

Iowa scored just one field goal during the final 8:51. But by my unofficial count, they made 26 of 29 free throws during that time frame, including 10 in a row at one point and 17 of 18, with most of the damage administered by Horner and Boyd.

It's great to win a game like that when your leading scorer, Pierre Pierce, scored just eight points and played 29 minutes as he was saddled with foul trouble.

Iowa played a zone defense for nearly all of the game and it certainly frustrated the Gophers, a team that does not shoot the ball that well from beyond the arc. In fact, they are last in the Big Ten in that category.

Iowa also held Kris Humphries to 17 points on 5 of 14 shooting from the floor. Three of those points came on a late three with the game out of reach.

Iowa finished the game with a +12 advantage on the glass, another area that was a concern in this game prior to tip-off.

Add in the fact that the Hawkeyes were playing without Mike Henderson, who was back in Iowa City finishing an intersession class and did not travel with the team, and you have quite an impressive victory for a team that really needed a win like that after Saturday's lackluster performance against the Wildcats.

So where do the Hawkeyes go from here?

With just four two-game or better win streaks in Big Ten play under Steve Alford and a trip to Assembly Hall in Illinois looming on the Horizon, enthusiasm will be somewhat tempered. Pierre Pierce will undoubtedly face the most harassment from an opposing crowd that he will encounter all year. Wins in Chambana have not been easy for Iowa to come by, as Iowa has left Illinois with just one win since the classic 81-88 overtime thriller in 1987. That win happened on 1/14/1987, exactly 17 years ago tomorrow. Two wins in 17 years.

But Iowa is now 1-0 on the road and this win certainly helped take away some of the sting from the Northwestern home loss. Not all of it, as that loss will linger all season long. But some of the pain went away on this chilly January evening.

I just hope that the Hawkeyes can feed off of their unselfish play and fantastic execution they exhibited in the half court and in transition tonight.

If they do, they have a chance to beat any team in the Big Ten.

But as we saw on Saturday, they can be beaten by any team in the league when they don't come to play.

After that loss, I said that the Iowa Men's basketball program was at a crossroads. That loss was either going to serve as a serious wake up call, or the season was on the brink of getting away from this team.

For at least one night in January, the Hawkeyes got up from the canvass after their standing 10 count and came back with a roundhouse of their own.

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