Jan. 24, 2005
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The Hawkeyes have had their “one bad week,” now it’s time for them to have their “mental toughness week,” according to Head Coach Steve Alford.
“We want to set up February, and we have to get two wins this week,” Alford said in his weekly press conference on Monday. “It’s much more difficult if we don’t get two wins, and this is going to be a week that tests this team’s mental toughness.”
Iowa (No. 23 AP; No. 24 ESPN/USA Today) takes on unranked Northwestern (8-9, 1-4 Big Ten) on Wednesday night inside Welsh-Ryan Arena and then returns home to host Indiana at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Alford said the team’s thinking was one of the reasons why the Hawkeyes (14-4, 2-3) got off to a 0-2 start in Big Ten Conference play against Michigan and Ohio State earlier this month.
But since resetting the season clock in the players’ minds before hosting Minnesota, Iowa is 2-1 – the only loss coming in overtime against No. 1-ranked Illinois inside Assembly Hall.
Alford is beginning to see his one-time 12-1 team’s energy coming back.
“I think for the most part we’ve been a team that’s been pretty tough mentally,” the coach said. “I think we’ve done things in games – in Illinois we overcame 22 turnovers and still have a chance to win against the best team in the country; most of the time that’s a blowout. So I think we’ve shown some pretty good mental toughness, but there’s still room to get better.”
Forward Greg Brunner is also feeling the confidence come back.
“I wouldn’t call it arrogance, but we have that step to us, thinking that we can win all the games,” he said. “It’s a different mindset.”
“I think this week really becomes pivotal for us before we have our last week off. It sets up February and that’s how we have to approach this week. If we take care of business this weekend, then we’re right back in the thick of things.”
Head Coach Steve Alford
Point guard Jeff Horner said his team may have just gotten tired at the start of league play.
“I don’t know if guys got tired or what happened – whether they just rested on being ranked and playing well,” he said. “People put their guard down and thought we could just go in and win games. Once you get into conference play that’s not going to happen. Everybody’s going to give you their best test.”
And the confidence?
“I think it’s very high right now,” Horner said. “We’re coming off a big win against Purdue and we responded very well after a loss to Illinois and a day’s rest. It’s very good. We’ve got to take one game at a time and just get back into the race somehow.”
This week’s games will go a ways to determine if Iowa gets back into the race. Indiana (9-7, 4-1) is tied for second in the Big Ten standings, and Northwestern is right behind the Hawkeyes.
“This is our most important week to date,” Alford said. “I think this week really becomes pivotal for us before we have our last week off. It sets up February and that’s how we have to approach this week. If we take care of business this weekend, then we’re right back in the thick of things.”
Does that make the games must-wins?
“That’s how you approach every game,” Brunner said. “We want to be up there playing for the championship, so we had one bad week and hopefully we can get that behind us and it won’t be all that’s talked about at the end of the season.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com