Bouncing Back

After a tough loss to Big Ten leader Wisconsin two nights ago, the Hawkeyes enter an extremely important contest against Michigan Saturday. Coach Steve Alford talked about the ramifications of the matchup as well as his decision to keep Ben Rand on the bench in the last two games, the chances of Jared Reiner returning, Iowa's NCAA Tournament possibilities and much more in this premium story.

You talked a lot about the turnovers against Wisconsin. What did the tape show?

Well, it showed that we played very well. It was probably the least we wrote down in critiquing a tape this year. It was game that we really did a lot of good things, both offensively and defensively, against a very good team. It was just the turnovers bothered us. And most of the turnovers came in regard to decision making; driving in traffic; not setting feet on drives. We had a couple of layups that we could have taken. Instead of taking layups, we make some tough passes. We had two inbound passes that wwe just crazy that we made. The only glaring thing that really came out was turnovers, and most of them had to do with decision making.

Is Pierre rushing a little bit?

He's so hard to guard. I don't know of a harder guard in our league off of the dribble than Pierre. And teams have tried everything. (Wisconsin) was probably the best defensive team in the league, and he still gets 20. What he's got to learn is when to drive; when to set up; when to pass and cut. He's young. He's still learning that. He's watching a lot of tape to figure that out. He just gets in trouble when he tries driving in amonst three or four people.

Do you see anything different in Michigan's personel or the way that they're playing since you first played them?

No. Not a lot. Abram is shooting the ball a little bit better. He actually shot it well against us in the first game. Since that time, he has probably shot the ball from our game to this game better than what he was prior to our game. He's a player that's been shooting it much better. But as far as personel, Mathis started last game instead of Brown, which if that happens would be a little bit of a change from our first game.

They shot it so well against you guys in the first game. What do you guys have to do defensively to try to cut them down?

They came at us early from the standpoint of going to the post. We didn't handle it well. We've got to do a better job of that. We're smaller than we were in the first game. They outrebounded us. They got 11 offensive rebounds, although they average 13. I just thought that we fouled way too much. We had 26 fouls. We had five guys for four or more fouls, including Brody fouling out with four minutes to go. We did way too much reaching and grabbing. That was the key. And they made 10 threes. I don't know if they've done that all year.

Is there any news to share on Jared Reiner?

He got his cast off (Thursday) morning. I guess he's in what they call a walking boot of some sort. Now, he just goes on to the next phase of rehab; of being able to get in the pool; of really being able to work range of motion. As far as any kind of time frame, I haven't been told anything yet.

Do you still think that it's possible (that he will return this season)?

It's possible. But that's hard. He's 7-foot, 260 pounds. You're still walking around in a boot. It's not like you're getting good aerobic exercise going up and down the floor. We wake up tomorrow, and we're three weeks away from the end of the regular season. We'd really be pushing it. But for me to guess on that, I'm just not for sure on.

This team has been pretty resilient. Is the tougher part of the challenge tomorrow bouncing back mentally or physically?

Even though we're only playing seven guys, it's always a mental thing this time of year. We're not doing a lot as far as wearing them down in practice. We're just going over scouting reports. We're getting a lot of shooting in. We're doing a lot of 5-on-0 work, and working on individual things, whether it be pass faking, shot faking; things we're not doing well defensively; doing that 1-on-1 stuff. They know that it's two days a week that they've got to give incredible effort. After watching the (Wisconsin) tape, they gave incredible effort. It's more of a mental thing because they gave everything they had physically and mentally. They thought the game out. They really worked at it. It was just infortunate that they got us down 13, 15 points. We weren't able to overcome that. It's a mental thing of knowing that they had the Big Ten leader on the ropes and couldn't quite get it done.

Ben Rand hasn't played in the last two games. What is your decision making process there? Has Kurt just moved ahead of him?

Yeah. And it's hard for players to understand that, expecially young players. From Ben's standpoint, he's got to learn from doing a lot of watching here. That doesn't make his role easier. we just think that Kurt's been around awhile. He had some good games for us last year. He's been in Big Ten play. And it's such a fragile position for us because it's about bringing somebody in that can spell those three guards maybe a total of six or seven minutes for the game; get some things done in that six or seven minutes, whether that's guarding, getting a rebound. Spurg is a very good rebounder. Spurg can shoot it. He really knows our system well because he's been here longer. That's really the reasoning for it, not that Ben or Jack won't get a call. They're working very hard, and we've told them that. At any time, you can be called upon, and you've got to be ready. Right now, we're wanting those other three guards to be out there the majority of time. Right now, we're settling on seven guys instead of eight.

Do you feel that Ben has gotten better this year?

He's improving. Ben is like a lot of freshmen. It's just a whole different level of play. And Ben is such a perfectionist. He puts a lot of pressure on himself. That's what he's got to learn is that he's just got to get into games and relax and not put undo pressure on him. That's hard to do as a young player. He's starting to get a little more comfortable. Sometimes you can do that by watching just as much as you can by playing. We hope that by the time that the year is over he's going to get some minutes. Right now, we just feel like where we are at, Kurt is doing a nice job.

From where you sit now, how would you describe your chances of making the NCAA Tournament?

It's difficult still just because there's a huge bunch of us that are bunched together. There are six teams (Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa) there in the Big Ten that are bunched together. If it ended today, the Big Ten maybe only gets four, maybe five. So, you've got six teams there maybe battling for one or two spots. That's why Saturday's game is of great magnitude for us because Michigan had got a higher RPI. Michigan has won some key non-conference games. Of those six teams, Michigan has got the best RPI.

With six games left, can you go 4-2, finish 9-7 and really think that you'll get in?

I don't know. That's hard. I wouldn't be able to speculate on that. What we've got to do, and we talked about it in our locker room, is those six teams that are bunched togeter, we've got to win that race. The only way that we do that is to take it one game at a time. We just have to take care of what we can control. We control playing Illinois again. We don't play Michigan State. We don't play Indiana. We don't play Wisconsin. We try to tell our guys that we're not out of this thing by any means. Let's take it one step at a time and see what happens.

Greg Brunner has put together three double-double games in a row. Has he broke through that wall he hit midway through the season?

He's really shown a lot of maturity in the last several games. And he's know we've had the Big Ten's leading rebounder, I think, for three straight years. He might be second or third in the league behind Humphries. He's doing a great job for us. He's maturing through understanding that he can play long minutes and be productive in those minutes. He's had a three-game stretch of double-doubles that have been very important to us. He's done it by staying out of foul trouble. He's done it by fighting. He's made jump shots. He's been our go-to guy inside. When you're go-to guy is 6-7, it speaks volumes of what that individual is doing.

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