Coach Alford Cleaning Slate

Iowa Head Coach Steve Alford and his staff are trying to convince their players that Saturday's Minnesota game is the start of a new season. After a building a 12-1 record during the nonconference schedule, the Hawkeyes have dropped their first two league games. Read the coach's Thursday press conference in its entirety right here at HN.com

Steve Alford

What have they see on the film, specifically?

I think when you get out to 12-1 you can get comfortable and I think we got a little bit comfortable. We ended up playing a lot here at home in December and I think they just got comfortable in the surroundings and lost their edge a little bit. Hopefully, they get that edge back this week. We have really had a good week of practice, things have really been intense, there's been a lot of talking, a lot of enthusiastic play, I just thought that dropped a little bit first week in January.

Going back to 2 games you won in Maui, what is the difference between those 2 games compared to the last 2 games?

I think just keeping things simple, offensively and defensively. From our standpoint, we might have been throwing too much at them, whether it's been scouting reports or whatever. Just getting back to the basics of how we want to defend, keep things simple that way. From a player standpoint, just seeing the enthusiasm they played with. I think that had dissipated a little bit, not greatly. The effort has been there, other than the first half against Michigan, the effort has been there. It's just that enthusiastic play, showing them the tape of when we were in Maui versus our last 4 games that's what's been missing. Somebody falls to the ground, and somebody is there to pick him up, somebody makes a great extra pass, are you slapping them on the hind end and saying "Hey, great pass" those type of things have been missing the last two weeks.

Are you thinking about changing the lineup at all?

No, I don't think so, Erek has practiced very, very well. Doug has practiced very well. For Doug, I think minutes have an opportunity of going up, he's doing a lot of good things energy wise he's being active offensively and defensively. I've seen kind of a renewed focus in Erek this week, I don't think he's done anything yet to lose that spot.

It has seemed just from watching over the last couple of weeks that the help side defense has been really inconsistent is that more out on tape or am I wrong?

I think if anything we're guilty of over helping. We're over helping to the point that instead of one guy helping, we've got two guys helping. That drive and kick to the open man is wide open, and that's what we're not defending well.

We've spent a lot of time this week defensively in shell drill, breakdown, and live play just getting back to our basic rules. We've gotten into (the habit of) over the last 3 or 4 weeks of guarding pick and rolls about 5 different ways, guarding screeners 4 different ways, get back to doing what we do well, make that team beat us that way.

That's what we were doing earlier in the year, and this is the time of the year where as coaches you end up watching 12 and 13 tapes of who you're playing and sometimes you can almost over coach at times. We've told them about those things, they've got to keep their effort at a high level, simplify things at the game plan, and then let them go play, and I think that's been our focus this week.

Everybody's got their theory of course, you do as well, about what went wrong. Is the other part of it that Michigan and Ohio State in the big ten are just better than they were?

I think Michigan and Ohio State are two good basketball teams, I think Michigan came in here, they seemed to be very relaxed, they seemed to play without pressure on them, Horton coming back into the lineup, and he gets 24 last night. I think they got energized by him being back, I thought that was our worst first half of the season and it cost us, because our second half was very good, our 2nd half we played extremely good basketball.

I thought at Ohio State they've been playing at a very good level right now. They're hard to guard, (Terence) Dials is one of the best big men in our league offensively, their guards are shooting very well right now, and they haven't lost at home. We're keeping things in perspective.

Now as the season goes on those are two teams we've got to be able to beat. We haven't played to the level we've been playing, and now we're playing opponents that are good enough that they can beat you. It's just case in point, if you're not playing well, and you're playing two teams that are, you can get beat, and that happened. I think that's why we're excited about this bye week.

After Texas Tech, we wish we could have kept playing, so that bye week came at a bad time, this bye week came at a good time. We needed to get into films, scratch everything, get back to basics, let the guys clear their heads a little bit, and get some good practices under their belt.

In saying that, we know we've got a very good Minnesota team coming in. They've won 10 in a row, (Head Coach) Dan (Monson)'s got them playing at a very high level. (Aaron) Robinson is the only guy who is back from a year ago, they've got a lot of new faces that are energized, confident. They've been able to play a lot of home games and build a lot of confidence and now they start the Big Ten season 2-0, so we're playing a team that's got a lot of confidence coming in here.

Nineteen assists and 30 turnovers the last 2 games, what's up?

I think that's the key. If you look at our team over those 13 games, we were sharing the ball very well and taking care of the ball very well.

In our first two big ten games, I didn't think we did that. I didn't think we made the extra pass to get a better shot, to get a teammate a better shot, that's on transition and half court play and I thought we got sloppy with the basketball. Those have been two things I thought I really corrected over a year ago that's made a difference in this years team, so that's been a big focal point going into this week of practice.

When you talked to Dan Monson before the season started, did he see this coming, with his team?

There we just a lot of question marks because he had a lot of new faces. I don't think he knew what his starting five would look like, then Aaron Boone gets hurt, pulls the bicep muscle, so there were a lot of question marks that he had.

I think he knew this could be a team he could have fun with, that they'd listen, much more coachable than last year's group, and I think that's what happened. They got a key road win in Nebraska, and they've been able to come back home and take care of their home games. That's something that they weren't able to do last year that's been a positive for them this year.

This is the first Gopher team, maybe in his time, that he hasn't had one big name like (Kris) Humphries or (Rick) Rickert, does that make it more difficult to prepare for?

As a friend, as an outsider, without question. At least in his tenure, which is as long as mine now in the Big Ten, this is most unselfish group. It's not about one guy, it's not about one guy getting numbers, and it's not about attention to one guy.

This team is much better defensively, they play very good help side defense, it's an unselfish defensive team, and they move the basketball well. Those are fun teams to coach, so I think Dan's had a lot of fun coaching this team.

Do expect (Jeff) Hagen will recover and play?

I think so, he did hit his head very hard, but I would assume he'll be back.

Your next game after this is at Illinois, you're going to be underdogs there. Is it way too early to call this Saturday's game a must win? If you lose this you might staring at 0-4.

We've talked about taking it one game at a time. This is our opening. We've got to get that enthusiasm, fire in our eye that we had against Western Illinois. We're 12-3, that's a tremendous start, really got out of the gates, really did a lot of good things.

We're 0-2 in the Big Ten, that's a bad start, we've kind of got both ends. We've really talked about scrapping both of those things. We've told our guys we're not looking at league races, we've got standings board in our locker room that we've erased and we're not even looking at.

We're really trying to play a 14 game schedule, and this is our home opener. We want attack it like our home opener, then obviously we move on, you move on to the next set of games.

It's a quick turnaround next week playing a national TV on the road on Thursday, then turning around and playing a very early Saturday afternoon game against Purdue. We know what's lying ahead of us, and this week we've got one game, and that focus point has got to be on this opener at Minnesota.

How would you describe the emotions of the captains right now? You think they're frustrated, anxious?

I think they're very excited, they've been a good group all year, this is the first setback they've had this is the first bad week they've had in 7-8 weeks. They were frustrated early in the work, down early in the week, from about Tuesday on, they've been tremendous. They're a resilient group, they're a group that hates to lose, and we lost two games last week, so that hurt.

Do you have to get a certain number of points out of Jeff for the offense to really work?

I don't think so. Obviously that helps, when he's playing at a higher level that's going to help us just because of the caliber player he is. I think the more frustrating thing about Jeff has been his assist/turnover, and that's a key to our team. We've been able to win with him not scoring double figures when his assist/turnover ratio was 10:2. That hasn't been there the last 4 games, that's what running the club and now playing off the club is the way he's always been very good.

I think the last week to 10 days he's gotten into putting too much pressure on himself and doing some things he's (1) Not capable of doing, and (2) getting out of character of the kind of shots he needs to be getting and the kind of shots he needs to be getting his teammates.

Do you flip flop him and Pierre at times?

Yeah. Obviously Pierre is very good back there, so we can ease some of that pressure and get Jeff running off more screens and getting down the floor a bit earlier. We've worked on that, just relieving some of that pressure on him to get him some more shots. He's still very good at running the show, I think he just went through a tough stretch. He's practiced extremely well this week and I think he'll really rebound on Saturday.

Minnesota has those two giant beefy sort of big guys in there, what sort of problems does that present for you?

They do a very good job. Hagen is a 5th year senior, he does a very good job, and they go to him well. They get a little 4 out going, look to isolate him in the post. (Spencer) Tollackson is a very exciting freshman who's gotten to a good start, probably more athletic than Hagen. That gives them 2 big go to guys inside, guards are quick, and they can beat you off the dribble.

They've been a tough team, they've gotten after loose balls, and I think it makes for a very exciting Saturday game with them trying to get a road win in the Big 10 and ourselves trying to get our first win in the Big 10. I think it's going to be highly competitive, they want to go inside, we want to go inside, it's 2 teams trying to do similar things, it's just about who is going to execute it the best.

They've got 3 starters out of Twin Cities suburbs, you've talked about Iowa High School Basketball being much better now than it was 10 years ago, same for Minnesota?

Minnesota has had a very good run, look at the guys that have left early, whether it's been Rickert or Humphries, the big kid when I first got here, they've had a good run of some pretty good talent.

I think Dan's done a very good job of keeping that talent home for the most part. Unfortunately, some of that talent has decided that one year college is enough. Now he's got some instate kids that want to stay there a little bit.

Are you up to date on this new academic stuff that's passed by the NCAA?

Not a lot, I've seen a little bit of stuff on it. There are more rules that come out, and I try to look at that in the fall and the spring because I know what comes out now, by the time they have their spring meeting, all that could change.

It's more confusing for me each time it changes, so I just wait until it's not just a proposal, but it's in ink and going stay that way. That book is this thick now, trying to figure out the NCAA rulebook and how thick it is, it's an amazing piece to me. I just try to pass that test every June, as long as I can pass that, I feel like I'm doing ok.

Ever flunked it?

There have been some difficult tests, so it's one that we just do every year. (Laughs) No, no.

Do you have any memories of Iowa's 1980 team?

A little bit, I was just starting my High School career, and I was a junkie then. That was real similar to Isaiah Thomas year at Indiana, so it's Ronnie Lester. As a young guard in high school watching, one of my favorite match-ups was Lester and Thomas, I thought that was a tremendous match-up.

Playing in the Fieldhouse at that time, that's really the only memory I have of the Fieldhouse days. It was just a fun team, now we have Bobby (Hansen) working on our radio network, so to see that tie really helps our program. We're excited to have the vast number of guys that are coming back. That's why we hope we play well and get a good win for this team, obviously the most decorated team that we've had in the last 2 or 3 decades, so it's fun having them come back.

Going to bring the 1980 guys into the locker room?

We're going to use them as much as possible while they're here. There are a lot of activities, our TV show's to be filmed out at the Hall of Fame, festivities after the game, they're going to be around beforehand with pre-game meals and shoot around, and they've been invited to all those things. As many of them as can get here at the early time, a lot of them are coming in Friday night so we hope to have them interact with the guys as much as possible.

So this would not be a good game for you guys to lose?

This is not a good game for us to lose regardless of whether a Final Four team is here or not. We don't want to start the Big Ten season 0-3. We've got a very good basketball team, very good start to the season, we had very tough first week, now we've got to show some resiliency and bounce back. This is a bounce back game. It's not a season do-or-die game, it's a bounce back game. We've got to bounce back and get one in the left column.


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