July 26, 2010
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Editor’s Note: The following was written by Pat Harty and first appeared in the March 14, 1999 edition of the Iowa City Press Citizen. DENVER–In a season filled with bitterness over a controversial coaching change, the ending has turned so sweet for Tom Davis and the emotionally-charged Iowa men’s basketball team.
But emotion is just part of their feel-good story because in the NCAA Tournament, talent and execution determines who will survive.
That was apparent during Saturday’s 82-72 victory over Arkansas in the second round of NCAA Tournament at McNichols Arena.
Davis’ 13-year coaching reign at Iowa likely would have ended Saturday against the Razorbacks had senior guard Kent McCausland not made three 3-point baskets during a 16-0 scoring run early in the second half.
Jess Settles’ illustrious Hawkeye career probably would have ended Saturday had sophomore point guard Dean Oliver not made 10 of 13 free throws and performed a spectacular behind-the-back pass from beyond the mid-court stripe to Settles for an easy layup late in the second half.
And UI men’s athletic director Bob Bowlsby would have been able to complete his task of removing Davis as the head coach had freshman Joey Range not played arguably his best game of the season with 12 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one stare-down against Arkansas point guard Kareem Reid.
Instead, the Hawkeyes (20-9) are headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 1987-88 season and for the third time under Davis, who will step down after the season.
Iowa will play No. 1 seed Connecticut in a West Regional semifinal Thursday in Phoenix.
“I think you go into that locker room after that game and you just felt the raw emotion and appreciation of what the team accomplished,” Davis said during one of the numerous postgame interviews Saturday. “How they feel about each other.”
“It’s a rare moment in sport. I think it’s why we coach. Somewhere in there is the answer to why we do what we do. And why it’s fun.”
This season has not always been fun for Davis, however.
He was hurt and disappointed when Bowlsby said publicly his reasons for not offering Iowa’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach a contract extension.
Now Davis is simply happy to still be coaching the Hawkeyes.
But for him to continue with his current job, it will require a victory over a Connecticut team that was ranked No. 1 in the country for much of the regular season.
The multi-talented Huskies (30-2) led New Mexico 17-0 Saturday before cruising to a 78-56 victory in the second round.
“I think you go into that locker room after that game and you just felt the raw emotion and appreciation of what the team accomplished.”
“It will probably be a lot like this game here,” Davis said. “I don’t know for sure. But seeing enough of Connecticut on TV, they’re really quick and athletic and they really get up-and-down.
“They have no fear of Iowa. They’ll be attacking us. So I look forward to it.”
As for his players, Davis paid them a huge compliment Saturday.
“This is the best group I’ve ever had,” Davis said. “This team has hung together through adversity, maybe better than any.”
The victory was especially sweet for Settles, who had endured his share of hardship over the past two seasons.
At this time last year, Settles was dealing with the fact that his playing career might be over because of chronic back pain.
Now he is preparing for the Sweet 16.
“It’s definitely for the fans,” Settles said. “It’s going to be nutty back home now. And that’s what we wanted.
“We needed a boost for our state.”
And for Davis.
The Iowa players have been forced to answer questions about the coaching change since the season began in November. It will resume in Phoenix.
Except for perhaps Gonzaga and Miami (Ohio), Iowa’s final journey under Davis is the most inspirational story in the tournament.
Where it will end, nobody knows.
“It’s a lot coming here my first year and then making it here,” Joey Range said. “I know it means a lot to the older guys, too, considering they didn’t even make the tournament last year.
“There’s a lot to look forward to for the state and for us.”
Especially if the Hawkeyes keep performing like they did Saturday when they outrebounded Arkansas 47-32 and forced 20 turnovers.
Iowa had four players who scored in double figures Saturday, led by Oliver and McCausland with 17 points apiece.
“Magical things happen in this tournament when you bring your best game,” Oliver said. “And you work hard all year long for this moment.
“When it comes, you just try and do your best to perform.”