As I watched the first half, my notes were filled with several familiar criticisms that have plagued this Iowa team during the Steve Alford era:
Lack of patience on offense
Lack of a half court offense
Poor free throw shooting
Too many turnovers
Yet as Iowa went into the break, they trailed Louisville by just four points.
One of the reasons they were able to stay in the game was because this year's Iowa team is going to force just as many turnovers as they commit, they are going to run fast breaks and secondary breaks as good or better than most of the teams they will play and they have athletic depth that will allow them to play around foul trouble.
Iowa shot just .387 from the floor in the first half, and the majority of their points came in transition (including dunks by Erek Hansen, Greg Brunner and Pierre Pierce), on put backs or at the free throw line. Louisville shot .609 from the floor in the first half. The Hawks were 6-13 from the line and Louisville was 6-9. Each team made three 3-point shots.
The most disappointing area for Iowa had to be that they were down by four points when they had a +9 margin on the offensive glass, as they had 10 offensive caroms to Louisville's one. To be down at the break when you have that big of an advantage on the glass and you turn the ball over less than your opponent does defies most basketball logic. But when you are taking ill-advised shots and forcing the action, that can happen.
One thing that needs to be mentioned is that Louisville plays a style of basketball that Iowa will not run into that much this season. They extend an aggressive man to man defense once you cross half court, they press and they really try to force you into an uptempo game.
Even though Iowa was not making their shots, they still attacked the Louisville defense off of the dribble. Iowa's guards, namely Pierre Pierce and Mike Henderson, could have been less selfish after getting by the first wave of Cardinal defenders.
But then came the second half, or rather, the last 11:36, as the Hawkeyes finally found their groove on offense and played some suffocating defense of their own.
It was at that point that Juan Palacious made a layup, giving Louisville a 48-42 lead. The Cardinal would not make another field goal until just 02:40 remained in the game.
Jeff Horner got things going with a three pointer. Prior to that point, he had made just one field goal, but he had not forced the action.
Horner hit a three-pointer to cut Louisville's six-point lead in half.
Horner would hit two more three's during that run, and each and every Hawkeye seemed to come to life. Adam Haluska was hitting his free throws, Mike Henderson made a crucial jumper, Erek Hansen hit a couple of jump shots, blocked several shots and altered even more shots.
Make no mistake about it, it was defense that carried the day for the Hawkeyes during the last 11 minutes, as well as good foul shooting; Iowa made 13 of 17 from the stripe over the course of the final 11:36.
Four Hawkeye starters hit double figures, led by Jeff Horner's 18 points. That came on five of nine shooting, including three of six from downtown. He had six assists, five rebounds and four steals as well. Horner played a team-high 39 minutes; no other Hawkeye played more than 34.
Pierre Pierce had 16 points (5-15 from the floor, 4-8 from the line), six rebounds and four assists. Haluska scored 14 (3-8 from the floor, 7-9 from the line) and grabbed three rebounds. Greg Brunner scored 13 points and grabbed a team high ten rebounds.
Erek Hansen made the most of his 22 minutes, scoring seven points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking five shots. As I said earlier, he also altered several shots, as the Cardinals became very aware of his presence in the lane late in the game. All of Hansen's blocks came in his 15 minutes of court time in the second half. Mike Henderson chipped in six points, Doug Thomas had three rebounds and Alex Thompson collected three fouls in 2 minutes and 51 seconds in the first half.
PIERRE PIERCE: Pierce is trying way too hard in these first two games. He needs to forget about last season and realize that he does not need to be the player that he had to be last year. This team will not need him to carry the load the way it did last year. There are just so many other weapons, and Pierce is actually hurting his team this season by forcing the action. He has a team high eight turnovers in two games, and is making just 36.7 percent of his shots. The reason for his poor percentage is because he is driving and throwing up a lot of junk. A lot of that went in last year, but it's not this year and it's just not needed. He can be even more dangerous this year off of the drive by dropping dimes on the big men on the blocks. I don't think Pierce is a selfish player, he wants to win. But he needs to realize that this is not 2003-2004.
ADAM HALUSKA: Another slow start for Haluska, but he was very active in the second half and attacked the basket. That is something that Iowa needs for him to do, because when he does that, he goes to the foul line. When he goes to the foul line, he is an 80-percent free throw shooter. He attacked in the second half, and he wound up making 7-9 from the line. He also played very good defense.
EREK HANSEN: Just a solid game for ‘The E-Train' and Bill Rafferty glossed him today. I am no longer going to call him ‘The Mantis'. I started doing that three years ago. One, Erek does not like that name, and two, he has really come a long way in his Iowa career. He is going to be a force on the defensive side of the ball for Iowa, and his offense is really coming along. Plus, he runs the floor so well and is in position to clean up the caroms, like he did for a stuff in the first half. He is also very aggressive when he gets the ball on the block and is more apt to try and stuff it home than were previous Iowa big men who had a lot more bulk to them. Hansen has a very real shot at swatting more than 100 shots this year. The single season school record is 126 by Acie Earl in 1992. Earl's 106 in 1991 is 2nd best, and that mark is certainly in Hansen's range.
JEFF HORNER: I wrote in my halftime notes that Horner needed to get more shot attempts in the second half. While he only took five more shots, he hit four of them, including three 3's. I don't like seeing him playing 39 minutes out of the chute, but he probably would not have it any other way. Horner is easily one of the toughest competitors to don the black and gold in my some 26 years of watching Iowa basketball.
GREG BRUNNER: This was your typical Brunner effort. Hit the boards hard, do the dirty work, draw at least three charges and show just enough finesse, like he did on his baseline reverse drive. Jay Bilas compared him to Jess Settles in the game. Greg said in the last issue of Hawkeye Nation magazine that he hopes someday, future Iowa players might be compared to him, for their hard work and effort. I think that will be the case…from Chris Street, to Settles to Brunner; Iowa work ethic on display.
DOUG THOMAS: Thunder Doug got into some early foul trouble. Pierce threw a half court lob to Thomas who was running full speed at the rack. He was unable to ram the ball home on what would have been just an amazing alley oop. Thomas was not coming from the baseline as much as he was filling a vertical lane on the secondary break. It would have been one of the more memorable plays I can remember…even though it was not converted, it still sticks out to me.
One thing I wrote in my notes at the break was that Alford would need to make more adjustments than Pitino. I figured Louisville would keep on doing what they were doing, as uptempo play and high pressure man to man defense is their calling card. Iowa needed to find a way to attack the basket and make the Cardinals pay off of the dribble for overplaying them. The Hawks did just that, and I don't think it was coincidence that it was Adam Haluska who led that charge. He is going to create match up problems for teams this year, and he did on Monday afternoon.
I really liked the fact that Iowa kept attacking the rim all game long, but more impressive was the fact that they were ABLE to attack the rim all game long. They missed more shots than they made in doing that, but they got to the line 38 times.
Again, this Louisville team is very, very athletic, and Iowa matched that athleticism and intensity in the second half.
Like I have been saying all summer and fall, this Iowa team is the most athletic since the 1986-1987 team. I have also been saying that it might take eight to ten games before this team finds a comfort zone on offense.
When you can beat the #13 ranked team in the country on a night when your offensive execution was below average in your half court sets, you have a pretty good team on your hands.
Alford is now 2-0 against Rick Pitino. Let's hope that this year's Iowa team has the same faces on the bench in March as it does in November, unlike last year when Iowa beat a ranked Louisville team early in the season.
Up next for Iowa is #16 Texas. The Longhorns are athletic and lanky, as has been the case in recent seasons, but they are very young this year, as they start two freshmen and a sophomore. The game will be on ESPN.
CLICK HERE for a recap of Texas' opening round win.
BOWL CHARTER: If you are thinking about heading to Iowa's bowl game, then HawkeyeNation.com has you covered. Join us on our third annual bowl charter flight. We are taking reservations right now! One plane has already been sold, and a second plane is filling rapidly, so do not delay and join our inredibly popular trip. For more information, CLICK HERE