IOWA CITY, Iowa — No. 22 Iowa proved two things Saturday with a 62-43 win over Arizona State.
First, the Hawkeyes (8-3) are a defensive team. Limiting a squad that has averaged 79 points a game to 43, Iowa was disruptive enough to keep the Sun Devils (4-3) from becoming a threat, even at times when its own shooting was less than stellar.
Second, the Hawkeyes can win without senior point guard Jeff Horner. Horner partially tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a loss at Northern Iowa on Dec. 6, and the team went on to take a loss at Iowa State later that week.
The second point might not be that important, however, as Coach Steve Alford reported that Horner may be back as early as Tuesday’s contest against Drake. He was originally scheduled to return when Big Ten Conference play starts Jan. 5 at Wisconsin.
“I haven’t (ruled it out),” Alford said. “I didn’t know he was going to warm up tonight, so at least he’s doing that. I know he’s probably eager to do it.
“If he’s healed completely, I don’t want to sit him in sweats.”
Without or without Horner, defense remains the staple for Iowa.
Arizona State shot 34 percent from the field in a particularly brutal offensive performance that saw an 8 ½-minute draught midway through the first half. The Hawkeyes scored just six points in the stretch, but it provided enough cushion for the remainder of the game.
“I think we’ve got to rely on the defense whether the offense is clicking or struggling,” Alford said. “I think that’s just our personality this year. We’ve done a pretty good job of guarding people.”
Alford called the win an important one after an eight-day layoff for finals week.
“To get a 20-point win over a Pac 10 opponent speaks volumes, especially for a team coming off two losses and without Jeff,” the coach said. “To get a 20-point win without Jeff, that pleases me with our young guys.”
Freshman Tony Freeman, who replaced Horner in the lineup, said the team is improving without its leading guard.
“Each game we win without Jeff is a confidence builder for us,” he said. “When he gets back, we’re going to be that much better a team, so we’re looking forward to his comeback.”
Led by Adam Haluska’s 17 points on 4-of-8 shooting, Iowa shot 40 percent for the game. But the Hawkeyes aren’t concerned about the lack of an overwhelming offensive performance.
“It’s one of those situations where you have to shoot your way out of it,” said Greg Brunner, who added 12 points and had a game-high 15 rebounds. “I think if we get away from taking some bad or hurried shots, it’ll even help us more on the defensive end.”
Haluska said it was a matter of becoming patient with the ball.
“We’d like to run and do what we want to offensively, but the defense is there every night,” he said. “As long as that’s there, it’s going to get us wins. The offense is coming along. We need to keep up the defense and keep getting better every night.”
Arizona State suffered from offensive impotence from the start, going 13 possessions without scoring midway through the first half, with eight misses in the stretch.
After five minutes without a basket by either team, the Hawkeyes went on a 15-6 run underlined by 3-pointers by Haluska, Mike Henderson, and Carlton Reed. The sudden scoring spurt put Iowa out to a 28-12 halftime lead.
Iowa got out to its largest lead, 22 points, following a 12-2 run that was capped off by a layup by Freeman at the 3:43 mark in the second.
The Sun Devils were able to narrow a 19-point Hawkeye lead at 12:04 in the second half down to 10 by the 10-minute mark thanks to four points by Kevin Kruger, a 3-pointer by Bryson Krueger, and a layup by Serge Angounou.
The trio comprised the leading scorers for Arizona State. Kruger had 12 points, Krueger added nine, and Angounou put in eight. The Sun Devils, though, weren’t able to capitalize and Iowa scored five-straight points in response.
“Defense wasn’t solid enough to win against a good team on the road,” ASU coach Rob Evans said. “They run such a good motion offense, it’s difficult to guard. What you do is pick your poison.”
Like other Iowa opponents this year, Arizona State opted to use the zone defense to get the Hawkeyes out of rhythm. Alford said his team is adapting to the style.
“We’re facing enough zones now that our guys know what they have to against them,” the coach said. “We’re going to get a lot of practice on zone. I think the guys are getting more comfortable understanding what we need to do against zones.”
Iowa will face zone again when Drake visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, a matchup Brunner is looking forward to.
“Drake’s the best I’ve seen in a long, long time,” he said. “I look forward to playing them. They have a great coach and a great tradition.”
The Hawkeyes, though, just might have their point guard.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com