Iowa Hawkeyes country is college football country. Right now, it’s just not a college basketball town. Today’s loss at Illinois doesn’t help that. It was an Illini team that really needed a win, and for some reason Iowa can’t seem to beat Illinois lately.
The Illini improved their record vs Iowa at home to 61-14 all time; breaking a six game losing streak, the program’s worst since 1999. They’ve won 11 in a row at Assembly Hall vs. the Hawks and seven in a row overall against the team from Iowa City. Bruce Weber improved his record to 13-2 vs. the Hawkeyes.
Looking bigger picture, the Iowa University disaster hires of Steve Alford (one of the slimiest men in a sport filled with slimy men) and Todd Lickliter (one of the most incompetent men in a sport filled with incompetent men) sucked the life out of a program that actually has some good tradition and history.
Iowa has eight Big Ten regular-season conference championships, but the last came in 1979. They are one of just a handful of schools to win the Big Ten tournament twice, in 2001 and 2006; really the only true highlights for the program this decade. Iowa has also played in the Final Four on three occasions, reaching the semifinals in 1955 and 1980 and playing in the championship game against the University of San Francisco in 1956.
The Hawkeyes were successful in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s under head coaches Lute Olson and Dr. Tom Davis. They had a nice rivalry with Illinois in the early 90s after the Bruce Pearl-Deon Thomas incident. Since then, not so much.
“I told the kids last night they don’t realize the importance of this rivalry, and what it means,” Illini Coach Bruce Weber said.
“Obviously, we’ve had some success against them lately, but it is an important rivalry and I think the crowd responded to it, and stayed in the game and backed us late,” he continued.
Meyers Leonard led the Illini with 22 points and 14 rebounds. He also went 8-8 from the line. Brandon Paul added in 17 points on 3-5 from behind the arc.
The Hawkeyes are an ugly 15-14 on the year, but they have a respectable 7-9 conference record. That’s a big improvement from where they’ve been in recent years, and they’re getting better as the season goes on.
Under second year coach Fran McCaffery, the program appears moving in the right direction. And in Matt Gatens, they have a bonafide star and All-Big Ten performer.
McCaffery was made available to the media after the game, but provided zero usable quotes.
Gatens led the team in scoring with 22, making his first five threes. He finished 5-6 from distance. Unfortunately, the rest of the team shot 1-11 from behind the arc.
Gatens is the first Big Ten player to score 30+ versus two teams that were both in AP Top 25 since 1996-97. He surpassed Greg Brunner, Don Nelson and Andre Woolridge and moved into ninth place on Iowa’s all-time scoring chart with 1,536 points. His 33 points is the most scored by a Wisconsin opponent since Davidson’s Stephen Curry had 33 in the 2008 Sweet 16 and the second-most by a Big Ten player in conference play this season (Brandon Paul had 43 versus Ohio State).
Gatens had 15 at halftime, but then the Illini defense figured him out. BP3 talked about how they solved him.
“I think we were more in tune with him,” said Paul.
“Hat’s off to him. Defensively, whenever me and D.J. needed help, the team helped us, and we just kept switching back, making sure someone is fresh on him because he’s a guy who can make shots.”
Gatens was not made available to the media after the game.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
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