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Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Iowa 82, Texas 80
They did it again! Iowa improved its record to 3-0 with its second upset of a top-15 team in as many days. Things don't get any easier Wednesday, when they face #11 North Carolina in the championship game of the Maui Invitational, likely without the help of last year's leading scorer Pierre Pierce. ESPN will televise the game at 8:30 CST.

The news on Pierce:

On the last play of the game, when Texas' P.J. Tucker missed a chance to tie it,
Pierce stepped on another player's foot and hurt his left ankle. He was on the
floor in pain while his teammates celebrated, then they ran to him and helped
him to the locker room.

He left the Lahaina Civic Center on crutches and was
taken for X-rays.

Pierce hit the biggest shot of the game against Texas, which will probably overshadow the rest of his poor play (OK, poor play probably isn't how you describe 18 pts, 7 reb, and 7 ast, but this guy's decision-making and shot selection really irritate me sometimes). True to his form, he launched a deeeep three that had Hawk fans yelling at their TVs, "What the hell are y....WHAT A SHOT!" It seems like whenever I get frustrated with this guy's questionable decisions, he'll get a big steal and a layup or make a shot where he was double-teamed that just leaves me dumbfounded. In this situation, Iowa was down 2 points with under a minute to go, and a long three from Pierce was about the last shot I wanted to see go up. Honestly, the guy is shooting 38% on the year (but has still taken 48 shots in three games). Meanwhile, Horner was on fire and Brunner had been effective inside against two ranked opponents. So with 45 seconds left, you launch a 25-footer? That shot clearly was a huge one for Iowa early in their season, and maybe it will help me deal with Pierce's other shortcomings throughout the year.

I guess the point I want to make is that I won't be devastated if Pierre isn't able to play Wednesday. You obviously don't ever want one of your best players out of the lineup with an injury, but this team has a few other scoring options, like Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska outside and Greg Brunner down low. Some of you might point out that Haluska hasn't been all that steady so far (just 2 points against Texas), but it's not like there's a lot of shots to go around when Horner is hitting for over 18 a game and Pierce is chucking 16 shots each night. If Pierce is out of the lineup, I'm fine with Haluska handling the ball more and taking the extra shots. He's got a better outside shot, and I think some people would be surprised by his ability to take his man off the dribble. If nothing else, there would at least be another test point for the Sports Guy's Ewing Theory.

In other news, Iowa was again terrible at the line. How do you go from 20-20 against Western Illinois to 24-38 against Louisville and 21-33 against Texas? And even more puzzling, how do you shoot 63% from the line while beating two top-15 teams? I figured Iowa would lose some close games to their tougher competition this year because of their foul shooting, and they would have already if they weren't bailed out this week - their opponents were also afraid to make their freebies: Louisville shot just 20-29 and Texas was 13-22. Can we hope for the same kind of handouts from North Carolina? The Tarheels are only 69% at the charity stripe through three games, so I wouldn't rule it out.

While we're on the topic of free throws, what's up with Horner? He was an 86% shooter at the line last year, and I think the ESPN guys noted that he missed 5 FT during last year's conference schedule. In the two games in Maui, he's already missed 4 of 14. I guess that's the only aspect of his game I can find fault with. This guy is the main reason Iowa is playing for a championship Wednesday. If he can at least keep Iowa close against UNC, he should have tournament MVP wrapped up. (I say that without much research...I know Rashad McCants put up 27 tonight, but, c'mon, Horner is averaging 22.5 pts and 6 ast so far, and has carried his team to two upsets).

On to the UNC game - does Iowa have a chance? Well, I thought they'd have their hands full with Louisville, and I figured the magic would run out against Texas, so what do I know? First, UNC is a lot more athletic than either of those teams, and features some of the most talented players in the country at several positions. Sports Illustrated picks UNC #1 overall (the SI cover curse already toppled them last week against Santa Clara), and they have McCants first team All-America and PG Raymond Felton second team. Carolina's 260 pound center, Sean May, averaged 15 pts and almost 10 reb per game last year, and should be a tough matchup for Iowa's (not-so-)big guys. UNC also picked up one of the nation's top (Athlon Sports says #2 nationwide) freshmen recruits in Marvin Williams. Hopefully Iowa can surprise me one more time by keeping up with UNC, but I'm not holding my breath. Horner put the team on his back so far, but he's already played 39 minutes in each of the first two games. If Pierre can't go, Mike Henderson and Carlton Reed will have to take up his 34 mpg. Even if they can't pull another upset, you have to figure Iowa can slip into the top 25 next week, and the first two wins should look pretty nice come March when the tournament selection committee is making its decisions.

I plan to check out Carolina Basketball Update a couple times Wednesday. Its author should get a recap of Carolina's 94-81 win over Tennessee, and will hopefully look ahead to the Iowa game.

Oh, in case anyone wants to argue with my selection of Jeff Horner as tonight's player of the game, I'd like to hear from you. I saw that Yahoo! made Pierce their pick. Let's compare:

I can see where someone might make an argument for Pierce tonight, especially with the big three in such a huge spot, but I'll respond with some numbers that also highlight my main frustrations with Pierre: 7-18 FG, 1-6 FT. Horner, on the other hand, helped the team with 8-15 FG and 5-6 FT.

I'll be heading back to my hometown Wednesday, which means good news and bad news for me. Good news - I can watch the game on TV without having to resort to a noisy bar (woo DirecTV!). Bad news - I'll have to deal with Jurassic era dial-up on my parent's computer when I attempt to post here. Should be interesting.

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