KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Who needs offensive statistics when you can harass the other guys into a worse night?
The 18th-ranked Hawkeyes overcame 38 percent from the field Monday night in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic, and held No. 7 Kentucky to 32 percent shooting, in a 67-63 victory.
“We beat a very good team tonight, and we did it by guarding,” Iowa Coach Steve Alford said. “They guarded us well, too. These are two good defensive teams, for the third week of November.”
The Hawkeyes (3-0) will meet No. 2 Texas – which had a 76-75 victory over No. 13 West Virginia in the early semifinal – in Tuesday night’s championship game. The Wildcats (2-1) will play the Mountaineers for third place.
Greg Brunner had his usual solid inside game, leading the Hawkeyes with 17 points and 12 rebounds. But Iowa’s top shooters, guards Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner, were less effective on offense.
It fell to Mike Henderson to pick up the slack with 15 points – including a 7-for-9 night from the line.
“The kid who really hurt us was Mike Henderson,” Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith said. “We just couldn’t contain him.”
Wildcats point guard Rajon Rondo had a career-high 19 rebounds, a Guardians Classic record, but was held to five points – 13 below his season average – on 1-for-9 shooting. He didn’t score until he hit a layup with just over 5 1/2 minutes left.
“Everybody’s going to have off nights,” he said. “I’m not going to score 18 points every night.”
A wild final 72 seconds capped a back-and-forth battle in which neither team ever went up by more than seven points.
“Both teams played defensive games,” Horner said, “and when you play a defensive game it’s not going to be the prettiest thing out there.”
Kentucky’s Bobby Perry, who finished with 12 points, hit a 3-pointer with 1:12 remaining to force a 61-all tie. Rekalin Sims rebounded Henderson’s miss at the other end, but his pass to Rondo was off-target and Rondo fell out of bounds before he could call timeout.
“We had so many opportunities,” Smith said. “I don’t know if you can get any more opportunities. We lost all of our composure. We dribbled the ball off our foot. We stepped out of bounds. Guys were dribbling just to be dribbling.”
Sims, who led Kentucky with a career-high 22 points, fouled out on Iowa’s ensuing possession, and Haluska hit the first of two free throws to put the Hawkeyes up 62-61.
Perry missed at the other end, and Henderson rebounded and was fouled. That still did not put Iowa into the bonus, so the Wildcats were forced to foul again on the inbounds play and Horner hit two more free throws with 25.2 seconds left to make it 64-61.
Henderson then stripped the ball from Ramel Bradley, was fouled, and hit one free throw for a 65-61 lead. Ravi Moss scored for Kentucky with 1.4 seconds left, but Haluska’s two foul shots with 0.9 left sealed the win for the Hawkeyes.
Sims hit two 3-pointers and scored seven points in an early 10-0 run that put Kentucky up 12-5, but Iowa responded with a 10-3 run to tie it at 15. After that, the margin never went past five points.
The Hawkeyes led 34-31 at the break, holding Kentucky to 32 percent shooting (10-for-31) and forcing 10 turnovers in the first half. The Wildcats didn’t lead in the second half until Bradley hit a 3-pointer with just under 11 minutes left to put them up 46-44.