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Sunday, March 06, 2005
Iowa 74, Michigan 72 (OT)
What a day. After some 900 miles of travel and 36 hours with little to no sleep, I returned to Iowa City last night having witnessed Iowa's second consecutive down-to-the-wire, 2 point victory. Just 15 hours before tip off, I had no plans of making the trip to Ann Arbor, but I wouldn't have wanted this trip to come together any other way. The best road trips seem to be assembled at the last second, and this one was no exception.

The Trip
On Friday afternoon I caught word of a fellow Hawkeye fan who didn't want Wednesday's thriller against Ohio State to be the last Iowa game she saw this year. I emailed her, she called me that night, and at 3 am Saturday morning, we met for the first time. Crazy, huh? Two people willing to sit with a complete stranger for a seven hour drive (one way) just to see a basketball game.

My Road Trip Companion (RTC) took the wheel for what I figured to be the first turn in a back-and-forth driving rotation. Maybe it was the experience one gains during those sleep deprived college years, maybe it was the anxiety one feels when getting ready to watch Iowa play on the road, or maybe it was the Frappuccino (now in extra large bottles), but RTC managed to drive all the way to Ann Arbor without calling the bullpen. Outstanding.

RTC's superior driving skills got us to Crisler Arena in plenty of time to have our choice of seats. We settled on the fourth row behind the basket adjacent to Iowa's bench (check out the view here and the proximity to Coach Alford here). We arrived in early enough to catch all the pregame warmups (as seen from halfway up the stands here).

Crisler Arena is maybe the fourth D-I basketball site I've been to, and it probably ranks near the bottom of the list. I'm a big fan of sports venues with a nostalgic feel, and Crisler did have some wooden bleachers and a brick-lined concourse, but I wasn't too impressed overall. The place just felt dreary, and, with the exception of the top-notch pep band, it didn't feel like a great atmosphere for college basketball. (Though I don't blame fans for not coming to see the last home game of a disappointing team.)

The Game
Alford used his normal lineup of Brunner, Haluska, Horner, Henderson and Hansen to start the game. My immediate question, of course, was "where's Doug Thomas?" If Alford admits that Doug is the better player of late (by giving him more minutes than Hansen and by playing Doug at the end of tight games), why can't he start too? My frustration mounted when Michigan got the offensive rebound on their first missed shot. One of the Big Ten's best rebounders, Brent Petway, soon entered the game to exploit Hansen's presence. He would go on to post 10 rebounds (including 6 offensive) and a career high 16 points. Give Tommy Amaker credit for recognizing the mismatch (or at least realizing he had a good thing going) and playing Petway a conference season high 31 minutes.

If you didn't watch the game or you haven't read how the two teams arrived at the final score, catch Jon Miller's recap. By now you probably know the highlights - Jack Brownlee hit another buzzer-beating three before halftime, Jeff Horner missed a potential game-winning three as time expired in regulation, Thomas came up huge with two baskets in OT (both on offensive rebounds), and Mike Henderson sealed it with a layup with 4 seconds left.

A Few Notes
- Jeff Horner tried to fill the vacated role of Pierre Pierce by hitting only 5 of 17 shots, including 1 of 8 threes, but he could only muster 2 turnovers in 44 minutes. Seriously though, even when he wasn't able to hit his shots, Jeff was a valuable contributor. He pulled down some big rebounds and made two huge free throws to push Iowa's lead to four points with 21 seconds left in OT. My biased mind told me to give the Player of the Game to Thunder Doug, but the box score told me to go with Horner - his final line included 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.

- Iowa can barely survive an off night from one of the Big Three of Brunner, Haluska, and Horner, and two is out of the question. Given Horner's shooting woes, Iowa looked to be in trouble when Adam Haluska picked up his fourth foul with over 12 minutes to go in the second half of a tie game. The Hawks managed to keep it close while he was out, and Adam returned to provide some clutch offense, including the shot that tied the game with 45 seconds left in regulation. Haluska continued he streak of efficient scoring games, as he went 6-11 from the field and 4-4 at the line. Here's hoping the streak continues this Thursday.

- Greg Brunner contributed yet another solid performance. He seemed to be getting a touch on nearly every possession in the second half, and his constant attack on the basket led to Greg shooting nearly as many free throws (15) as Michigan did (17). It would have been nice if he had made more than 9 of them, but I'll take 24 points on 7-12 shooting any night. Like Haluska, Brunner has been a consistent contributor since Pierce left, and will need to continue that performance for Iowa to make any noise later this week.

- Exhibit 193 of why Doug deserves/needs to play more - 24 min, 3-4 FG, 8 reb, 1 foul. And this was a game in which Doug was "not feeling well," according to his suppressor, Coach Alford. (That might be too harsh, as I'll be the first to admit that Thomas often leaves Alford no choice to pull him out when he picks up his third or fourth foul in just a handful of minutes.) I see too many Iowa fans desperate for a reason to keep Doug on the bench, like "he looks lost out there defensively" or "he's out of control" or "he misses some dumb shots." Sure, he missed a dunk attempt that was probably ill-advised, but when he hits his other three shots, I find little to complain about. This is a guy, after all, who's hitting 56% of his shots on the season, and 54% in the Big Ten. And, you might recall, he is the fifth best rebounder in the conference. If I learned anything from Moneyball, it's that performance matters more than appearance, and Doug's numbers far out-weigh any of his awkward drives or over-excited miscues.

- Alford mentioned one thing in a post-game interview that I did agree with - Henderson's defense on Dion Harris was a big key to Iowa's victory. It's easy to point to the stat sheet and say that Harris's 25 points meant that someone must have played poor defense, but he had to miss 16 shots and give the ball away 6 times to get there. Mike has been a Hawkeye Hoops whipping boy for several weeks, but his five steals were worthy of some praise. Nice game, kid.

- Stat of the game - offensive rebounding. Iowa had 16 offensive boards to Michigan's 15 defensive, or an astounding 52% offensive rebound rate. Unfortunately, Michigan was nearly as good at the other end, getting 18 offensive boards to Iowa's 22 defensive, for a 45% rate. You might recall that Michigan burned Iowa to the tune of a 57% rate the first time these two teams met. Big Ten average is 32%.

- Is there anything more fun than being a fan of the away team in a game you're pretty confident of winning (other than being an Illinois fan at Carver with 4,000 of your best buddies)? I had a blast yelling myself hoarse, and the small Crisler-turnout provided plenty of opportunities for us to be heard. I also heard we were spotted on TV (that was me behind the basket with the black Iowa shirt over a gold long-sleeved T-shirt). Add in the fact that we were seated right next to what had to be the best pep band in the conference, and you had the makings of a great basketball experience. If I can just get Hail to the Victors out of my head, I'll be in good shape.

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