Starting Over

Jan. 13, 2005

The Iowa basketball team has erased the standings board in its locker room, and it hopes to erase its two-game losing streak at 1:30 Saturday afternoon while playing host to unranked Minnesota.

“Our theme this week is that this is going to be our opener, to get that enthusiasm and that fire in the eye,” Head Coach Steve Alford said Thursday at his weekly press conference. “We’re really looking at playing a 14-game schedule now and this is our home opener. We’re going to attack this like a home opener, and then we have to move on to our next set of games.”

The Hawkeyes (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today; No. 24 AP) opened the year with a 12-1 run against non-conference opponents, but they have faltered in the past week, dropping two at the start of Big Ten play.

Alford and his players diagnosed the problem as a lack of energy and enthusiasm at the start of the games.

“I think the effort’s been there, it’s just that enthusiastic play,” Alford said. “I think we’ve got to get back to doing what we do well. They have to keep their effort at a high level and simplify things and then go out and play. And I think that’s what our focus has been this week.”

The Hawkeyes have used their bye week to emphasize fundamentals, especially with defense and assists.

“I think we’ve tried to practice for other teams so much instead of playing the way we’re supposed to play,” point guard Jeff Horner said. “In Maui we trapped ball screens all the time, and we’ve kind of gotten away from that. Coach has really wanted to get back to doing that and playing the style we like to play.”

According to Alford, the full week of practice couldn’t have come at a better time for his team.

“After Texas Tech we wished we could have kept playing, so that bye week came at a bad time. This one came at a good time,” the coach said. “We needed to give them films, kind of scratch everything and get back to basics and let the guys clear their heads a little bit, get some good practices under their belt.”

Prior to conference play, Iowa averaged 18 assists to 15 turnovers a game. In the two conferences games this past week, the Hawkeyes have had 30 turnovers to 19 assists.

“I think if you look at the team over those 13 games they were sharing the ball well and we were taking care of the ball very well,” Alford said. “In our first two Big Ten games, I don’t think we did that. I didn’t think we made the extra pass to give a teammate a better shot like we’ve been – on transition and half-court play – and I think we got sloppy.

“Those are two things that I thought we had corrected a year ago that are coming back to hurt this team. It’s been a focal point coming into this week of practice,” Alford added.

The coach has also shown his team videos of the Maui Invitational last November, where the Hawks won all but one game, and last Saturday’s game against Ohio State.

“There was a tremendous difference,” Horner said. “And it was pretty much unbelievable the difference between the two teams. Our emotions were just 10-times higher. We were playing great defense and everybody was working hard. It was just everybody was clapping for each other and slapping each other’s hands and stuff like that. We need to get back to doing that.”

“This is a bounce back game. It’s not a season do-or-die game, but it’s a season bounce back game. We’ve got to bounce back and get one in the win column.”
Head Coach Steve Alford

The Hawkeyes will have a tough opponent against which to restore the good feelings.

The Golden Gophers (12-3, 2-0) are on a 10-game winning streak, taking down both Penn State and Purdue in conference home games.

“We’d love to have that going right now,” Horner said. “I think these next two games are going to be pivotal. If we look at it that way and start off 2-0, it’ll be huge for us – forget about those two losses in the Big Ten and come out firing.”

NOTES: Sophomore transfer Adam Haluska has had a rough first year with his new team.

In November, Haluska suffered groin and stomach injuries that took him out of practices for nearly three weeks and made him questionable for the season-opener against Western Illinois.

Now the guard has had to overcome upper back spasms that did take him out last week’s 81-69 loss at Ohio State. Haluska said he strained the muscles against Michigan on Jan. 5.

“I just think I jarred it pretty good,” he said on Thursday. “Saturday was pretty bad, and I was going into spasms and I couldn’t move at all. Since then it’s been a drastic improvement, and I’m ready to go.”

To add one more injury to the litany, junior backup forward Doug Thomas nailed Haluska in the right eye during Wednesday practices. That injury required five stitches, but it won’t have an affect on Saturday…

Saturday’s game will honor the silver anniversary of the squad that made the trip to the Final Four in 1980, the last time an Iowa team traveled that far in the NCAA tournament.

And while the current Hawkeyes undoubtedly want to put on a show for their distinguished guests, Alford says there’s no good time for a loss.

“We’ve got a very good basketball team, we’ve gotten a very good start to the season, and we’ve had a very tough first week, now we’ve got to show some resiliency and bounce back,” the coach said. “This is a bounce back game. It’s not a season do-or-die game, but it’s a season bounce back game. We’ve got to bounce back and get one in the win column.”

Barry Pump,