Protecting Home

Dec. 2, 2004

With an upcoming five-game home stretch, all No. 23 Iowa has to do is protect Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But, as Head Coach Steve Alford said Thursday at his weekly press conference, that may be easier said than done.

Alford’s squad has opened up the 2004-2005 season with back-to-back wins over nationally-ranked opponents for the second time under his tenure, and they put together a dominating 91-75 win on the road against intrastate rival Drake.

The Hawkeyes’ next challenge is to win the Gazette-Hawkeye tournament at the weekend. Iowa (4-1) plays Centenary College (0-3) at 8:11 p.m. inside Carver and, pending a win, will play at the same time on Saturday in the championship game.

“We’re hoping it’s like Syracuse and we can take advantage (of the home-game streak) like Coach Boeheim does there,” Alford said. “Our key was going to be the Maui trip – to make sure we did well there, and we did, a win on the road we had against Drake, which we did. Now we really get into the brunt of the season where our guys really look forward to taking care of home.”

Iowa has put together a 21-9 record in Iowa City over the past two seasons and has a 57-22 record in home games under Coach Alford.

“That’s probably the reason we haven’t been in the NCAA tournament the last couple of years,” point guard Jeff Horner said. “This year, hopefully we can get the job done.

“It feels good to play in Carver again; we’re ready to get back in here.”

Academically for the team, it’s nice to play inside Carver as well. With finals in little more than a week, the travel would just be yet another burden.

“We have four games in an eight-day period, and we’re thankful they’re home games so we don’t have to put travel in there,” Alford said. “It’s a pretty difficult stretch physically and mentally, and then you throw academics in there. It’s a tough stretch on our guys and we try to help as much as we can with what we have.”

Point guard Adam Haluska says he’s been putting in some long days prior to the end of the semester.

“Everybody on the team is going throwing the same thing and school is important,” he said. “I’m staying up late and getting up early, and a lot of the other guys are too. We’re meeting with tutors and trying to get focused on academics while trying to maintain what we’ve got going on the basketball court.”

“You just do it somehow,” Horner said. “There’s a lot of late-night study. You just got to get it in someway, and hopefully the guys are doing that.

“I can’t way until finals are over and we can just focus on basketball,” he added. “You can sleep in and get your rest before games, and I’m excited about that.”

But before that can happen, the Hawkeyes will have to win their own tournament and defeat Northern Iowa and Iowa State next week in what Alford called a “pivotal” stretch.

“It’s a pretty difficult stretch physically and mentally, and then you throw academics in there. It’s a tough stretch on our guys and we try to help as much as we can with what we have.”
Head Coach Steve Alford

“We’ve got difficult home games ahead of us, but I’m anxious to see how our guys just go about taking care of home because that has been a goal of ours since the summer — to make sure that Carver is a place where nobody comes in and gets wins,” the coach said. “And that’s easier said than done, but this is a pivotal month for us to get that established before we get into Big Ten play.”

According to junior co-captain Pierre Pierce, protecting home could be the key note to the season.

“That’s been our theme all year,” he said. “We’ve got to protect home court every year, but more so this year. We’re trying to get the crowds out and turn Carver into a hostile environment.”

One thing that may hold the Hawkeyes back from achieving that goal is defensive play.

“I think a lot of that though has to do with the fact we’re starting to play the way we want to offensively,” Alford said. “A lot of that has to do with your style, and we want to run. We want to get up and down the floor, so I know there are going to be more possessions than we can guard.”

The Hawkeyes’ opponents have collectively shot 65 percent against them and are at about the same number of rebounds. And one stat that is particularly concerning is Pierce’s 23 turnovers.

“He does have to improve his decision making, and we’ve talked about that,” the coach said. “He’s a junior. He’s a leader of our team, and we can’t have him averaging close to five turnovers a game.”

But, Alford says, stressing the protection of the basketball may negatively influence Pierce’s offensive production.

“I don’t want to curtail what he is,” he said. “I still think – as I watch college basketball – he’s one of the hardest guards to pair up against because he can beat you in so many ways. He’s really hard to guard in the open floor.”

Barry Pump,