Hawkeyes junior trio will test Cards right away

Iowa's trio of talented juniors will provide stern test for Louisville in the season opener at the Maui Invitational.

Last season, Steve Alford and the Iowa Hawkeyes snuck out of Conseco Field House with a 70-69 overtime victory over Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals in the John Wooden Tradition.

Behind a career-high 26 points from 6-7 forward Greg Brunner, the Hawkeyes downed the Cardinals in last November's season opener for the Cardinals.

Now, for the second straight year, Louisville will open the 2004-05 season against the Hawkeyes in the opening round of the Maui Invitational on November 22 (ESPN2) seeking to atone for last season's loss.

"We knew we would face a very good team, and that's what you get in an opponent such as Louisville," said Alford. "You know with Coach Pitino you will face a well-coached team. They return almost everyone from a year ago. The entire three days will give us great experience against very good teams in a tournament setting."

It won't be an easy game for the Cardinals, though, as Iowa welcomes back a talented trio of juniors in Brunner (10.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg), 6-4 point guard Jeff Horner (13 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and 6-4 shooting guard Piere Pierce (16.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg) after finishing fourth in the Big Ten last season with an overall 16-13 and a spot in the National Invitational Tournament.

"The leadership and experience of our junior class should be one of our strengths," Alford recently said. "This group has proven they can move in a positive direction when adversity hits. With the addition of good young talent, I believe this group is ready to make a statement. Our ability to score and rebound, along with our depth, should be strong points for this group."

Overall, the Hawkeyes return 60.1% of last season's points, 56.9% of rebounds, 67.5% of assists, 64.4% of blocked shots and 45.2% of steals. Additionally, Iowa's returning junior trio led the team in scoring 26 times and rebounding 22 times.

"To take the next step, we must improve on taking care of the ball and man to man defense," Alford said. "We must learn the value of each possession. Defensively, we have to be able to create problems with our pressure and position. We lost four key seniors in Brody Boyd, Jared Reiner, Glen Worley and Kurt Spurgeon. They set an example for our next set of leaders. We will miss their experience."

The Hawkeyes are also counting on key contributions from two newcomers. 6-8 JUCO Doug Thomas averaged 10.1 points and 6.7 rebounds last season while helping lead Southeastern (IA) Community College to a second straight national title. Alford also expects an immediate contribution from 6-4 guard Adam Huluska, a transer from Iowa State who was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman squad after averaging 9.2 points in 2002-03 for the Cyclones.

"I like the dimensions our new guys add to the mix," said Alford. "Adam is strong and athletic, and a great long range shooter. He is an experienced sophomore who has a chance to be a very good defender. Doug is a terrific athlete. He is very explosive and takes great pride in defending, rebounding and winning. He adds instant athleticism to our frontcourt."

Provided the Cardinals get past Iowa in the opener, they'd likely face a young but exceptionally talented Texas team in the semi-finals. Texas opens with host Chaminade in the first round.

And though the Longhorns lost four talented seniors in C James Thomas, G Royal Ivey, F Brian Boddicker and F Brandon Mouton, Rick Barnes welcomes perhaps the nation's top incoming recruiting class, led by talented 6-11 center Lamarcus Aldridge, 6-2 point guard Daniel Gibson and 6-7 forward Mike Williams, each McDonald's High School All-Americans in 2003-04.

Louisville, regardless of the outcome of the opening round game against Iowa, is guaranteed three games in Maui. Other teams participating in the 2004 Maui Invitational include, North Carolina, BYU, Stanford and Tennessee.

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