Iowa 66, Minnesota 60
I entered Carver-Hawkeye Arena today for the first time in a month. Some unexpected losses occurred since the last home game I saw, but things today were about the same as when I left. They still played the parents-cover-your-children's ears warmup music, the pep band still played out of time, the student section was still deserted, Pierre Pierce still coughed the ball up, and Erek Hansen still bit on any shot fake in his direction. But despite some ugly play and a gruesome box score, it was good to be back.
Iowa got their first taste of victory in the Big Ten with what Coach Alford has been calling Iowa's conference opener. After apathetic outings against Michigan and Ohio State, Alford decided it was time to "wipe the slate clean" and go back to basics. Iowa played with a renewed vigor, especially at the start, in leading the Gophers wire-to-wire. They came out pushing the tempo off of rebounds and turnovers, as Alford had suggested they would. Iowa built the lead into double digits early on and maintained a "comfortable" lead (is any Iowa lead really comfortable?) of about 6-12 points the rest of the way.
- Pierce played a solid game en route to joining the Hawkeye 1,000 point club, making him #36 on Iowa's career scoring list. He's on pace to eclipse Jeff Moe and climb to #13 by season's end. He was at 984 points coming into today's game, and got to 15 without any trouble. Then Iowa hit the Great Field Goal Drought of '05 (no FG in last 10+ min), and Pierce spent more than a few minutes at 999. Ironically, it was Pierce's free throw shooting that got him to the milestone. He shot 8-11 from the line, including point #1000, to climb to 52% on the season. Hawkeye Hoops has had a love/hate relationship with Pierce from the get-go, but today I say - congratulations.
- Pierce's free throw shooting wasn't his only note-worthy contribution today. Vincent Grier, who entered the game as the Big Ten's 4th leading scorer, could only manage 2 points against Pierce's defense. Coach Alford noted afterward that it was "Pierre's goal all game" to shut down Grier, and he did a great job at it. Astute readers might point out that Grier actually finished with 6 points. The other 4 points came from free throws after Adam Haluska switched over to Grier and fouled him, on two separate occasions. Also, it was Pierce's aggressiveness on offense that got Grier into foul trouble, as he was forced out of the game around the 10:00 mark with 4 fouls.
- Greg Brunner had another solid game, with 13 points and 11 rebounds. I think solid is becoming the only word I use to describe Brunner anymore - his consistent production is remarkable. Ever since Alford dogged Greg after the UNI game for only leading Jeff Horner by one for the team's rebounding total, Brunner has averaged 12.4 ppg and 10.3 rpg over 8 games, while never having fewer than 9 points or 8 rebounds in that stretch. Iowa's PF got the offense started early by canning two threes for the team's first six points (contrast that with the 3-17 performance from Iowa's backcourt of Horner, Haluska, and Pierce). He later added an impressive left-handed tip-dunk, as seen here.
- Speaking of awesome dunks, let's turn to the authority on the subject, Doug Thomas. Thunder Doug threw down a powerful slam in the face of a defender that brought the crowd to its feet in the first half, and added a tip-dunk in the second half. Doug could have had plenty of playing time, as Erek Hansen racked up a handful of fouls by biting on pump fakes, fouling out in only 14 minutes of play. Unfortunately, Doug has been rather foul-prone himself, as was the case today (more below).
- Enter freshman center Seth Gorney. The 7-footer played 11 minutes, the most action he's seen yet. He held his own defensively against Super Walker Jeff Hagen (with some nice double-downs from Pierce), and gathered 5 rebounds for the Hawks. His performance was impressive enough that Gary Dolphin and Bobby Hansen on AM 800 named him co-player of the game, sharing the title with Pierce.
- I didn't realize it then, but Haluska's scant playing time in the Ohio State game was due to back spasms. The news was that he was ready to go today, but his shot wasn't too pretty. He ended the game 1-7 from long range, but was able to get to the free throw line often, especially down the stretch, and made 8 of 10. Alford was asked about Haluska's shooting after the game, but chose instead to praise the transfer's energy and defensive intensity.
- Horner had an off night shooting as well, missing 5 of his 7 threes. Maybe some of the team's shooting woes can be blamed on not playing for a full week, but I thought last week's two-a-day practices were intended to keep everyone sharp. Iowa's going to need better production from Horner if the team is going to do any travelling at the end of the season (and not of the Jeff Hagen variety).
- Pierce was interviewed on the radio after the game, and he commented that he'd been working a lot on his free throws lately. His 8-11 game was a nice surprise, and will be a big asset if he can maintain it. A big part of his game is cutting to the basket and drawing contact, so improving the FT% would really add some points to the offense. Pierce also said that Alford told him there was no reason he couldn't shoot 75% during the conference season. So far in Alford's clean-slate 14-game season, Pierre is 73% (8-11). For those of us spending our time in reality, Pierce is at 67% (16-24) through 3 games.
- It seems to me that more and more strength and conditioning coaches are taking note of Mark Verstegen's work. Minnesota's pre-game stretching routine looked straight out of Core Performance, Verstegen's exercise book that I first saw recommended at Will Carroll Presents (creative outlet of Iowa grad and writer/comic [and Hawkeye Hoops reader!] Scott Long, among others). Definitely one of the more useful books I read last year.
This blog has often noted Iowa's struggles with post defense. A big part of that has been keeping the better defenders on the floor, as they are so inclined to foul. Here's a listing of the team, in order of most fouls per 40 minutes.
Doug Thomas, 7.05
Seth Gorney, 6.25
Erek Hansen, 4.72
Alex Thompson, 4.32
Greg Brunner, 4.18
Mike Henderson, 3.36
Pierre Pierce, 2.97
Adam Haluska, 2.74
Jeff Horner, 1.92
Carlton Reed, 1.73
*** Hawkeye Hoops Exclusive Update ***
Big Ten Leaders, fouls / 40 min (minimum 15 mpg)
Doug Thomas, Iowa.....................7.05
Pat Ewing, Jr, Indiana....................6.29
J'son Stamper, Minnesota............ 6.12
Matt Kiefer, Purdue........................4.82
Chris Hunter, Michigan..................4.74
Erek Hansen, Iowa......................4.72
Spencer Tollackson, Minnesota....4.70
Mohamed Hachad, N'Western......4.24
Carl Landry, Purdue......................4.23
Greg Brunner, Iowa....................4.18
Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State have no regulars over 4 fouls / 40 min (unless your're counting the Badgers's Brian Butch, he of the 13 mpg). Most other teams only have one or two, while Iowa has Thomas, Hansen and Brunner above the admittedly arbitrary baseline. Gorney said on the radio tonight that he was trained in high school to keep his feet on ball fakes and shot attempts. That'll be a valuable skill to have if Houdini Hansen's Big Ten performances are indicative of his actual skill level.
Next up - Iowa travels to Illinois on Thursday to challenge the nation's #1 team. I'll be looking at Illinois next week.