Hawks Punish Indiana; What Next?

Just when you think its safe to write off Steve Alford's Hawkeyes, they put together a masterful effort, the way they did against Indiana on Saturday as they cruised to a 72-57 win in Iowa City. Alford benched his tri-captains Pierre Pierce, Jeff Horner and Greg Brunner to start the game, and they responded to score 75 percent of the team's points. Horner had a team high nine assists while Brunner had as many rebounds. More on the game, plus Jon Miller's commentary on Iowa hoops.

BOX SCORE | PHOTOS

The enigma that is Iowa Men's basketball under Steve Alford played a very solid game against Indiana on Saturday, besting the Hoosiers 72-57 in front of close to 15,500 fans in Carver Hawkeye Arena.

Alford benched all of his starters save Adam Haluska, and the Hawkeyes responded by playing one of their more crisp offensive games of the season.

The Hawkeyes shot 58 percent from the floor, including the same percentage from three point range, and held Indiana to 39 percent from the floor.

Pierre Pierce played a great game, scoring 25 points, picking up five steals and sticking six of eight free throws. He also held Hoosier guard Bracey Wright to 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting, as Wright, the Big Ten's leading scorer, played only 25 minutes on the night.

Jeff Horner scored 16 points, dished out nine assists and had but one turnover in one of his better games in more than a month of play. Greg Brunner had 13 points and nine rebounds, as Iowa tri-captains (Pierce, Horner and Brunner) accounted for 75 percent of Iowa's points.

Iowa improved its record to 15-5, 3-4 in Big Ten play, while Indiana fell to 9-9 overall, 4-3 in league play.

JON MILLER'S COMMENTARY

For the better part of the nearly six years of the Steve Alford era, Iowa basketball has been nearly impossible to figure out. Just when you think the team is playing well and looking to pick up momentum, they lose as 12-point lead with 2:50 to play, the way they did against Northwestern on Wednesday night.

Judging by the record amount of web traffic to HawkeyeNation.com since Northwestern's last second three-point shot found its mark, Hawkeye fans are frustrated.

They are frustrated because this is the same team that beat Louisville and Texas on back to back nights in Maui earlier this year. This is the same team that beat Texas Tech by 30 points back in mid December.

This is also the same team that lost to Michigan at home and to Ohio State on the road to start Big Ten play this year, and then of course the aforementioned loss to Northwestern.

I have said this before; the one consistent of the Steve Alford era at Iowa has been its inconsistent play.

Last year, Iowa finished 4th in league play with a record of 9-7. They did not lose back-to-back games all season long, but they had just one two-game win streak.

There have been only three instances in the Steve Alford era where Iowa has won two or more games in a row in Big Ten play…period. Obviously, that is not going to lead to many upper division finishes in the league, and Iowa has had just one of those in Alford's first five seasons at Iowa.

Those numbers more than anything can account for the frustration of Hawkeye fans throughout the nation; that, and the fact that Iowa has been in the NCAA tournament just one time under Steve Alford, and that one time took an unprecedented four-wins-in-four-days at the Big Ten tournament at the conclusion of the 2000-2001 season.

Prior to Alford's arrival, March in Iowa City signaled the beginning of spring and a trip to the Big Dance.

So the frustration of the fans is understandable, though the mean spirited and personal attacks are always petty and ignorant.

But just when you are ready to leave this team for dead, they come out and play a beauty of a game the way they did against Indiana on Saturday, or against top ranked Illinois nine days ago in Champaign, where the Hawkeyes lost in overtime in a very hostile environment.

So what now?

In the crucial final 10 game stretch of league play, Iowa beat Indiana on its home court. That leaves nine more to play, and three of those games are against Michigan State and Illinois (both at home), and a road trip to Wisconsin.

Iowa still has a very, very realistic shot to make the NCAA tournament this year. They still have a very good shot at winning 23 games this season, a total that is the third best single season win plateau in school history.

Iowa still has a trio of players in Pierce, Horner and Brunner that are among the most potent in recent school history. They can still play with most teams in the country.

Iowa has one month to prove whether it belongs in the top tier of the Big Ten, or if it is just an average team that can flash on some nights when the occasion calls for it.


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