Aug. 2, 2010
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Editor’s Note: The following was written by Maury White and first appeared in the March 17, 1980 edition of the Des Moines Register.
PHILADELPHIA, PA, — It’s a team that has found its year and it’s a happening that has transpired in spite of a continuing series of misfortunes that have had Coach Lute Olson checking his ancestry for a possible relationship with Job, the fellow who was forced to be so philosophical in Biblical times.
The stakes were high Sunday afternoon in The Spectrum. The winner would advance out of the National Collegiate East Regional into Saturday’s Final Four at Indianapolis. As most of the world knows by now, the “Fabulous Few” won, 81-80, on a three-point play by Steve Waite with only five seconds to go.
Clawing back into the position of being able to win was a saga in itself for Iowa trailed by 14 early in the second half, then achieved the huge victory by shooting 70 percent from the floor and hitting all 15 free throw chances in the second half, then stalling almost two minutes for that one final shot.
Only 14 were on the big clock when Ronnie Lester, not much of a scorer this day but an all-American playmaker, tossed in the ball to Kevin Boyle, who was supposed to toss it back. But…
A pair of Hoyas named Eric, Smith and Floyd, collided. Boyle saw there was a chance to penetrate towards the goal, did and flipped it into the corner where Waite was waiting.
“My first thought was to pass it back and let a shooter shoot it,” said Waite, long after the nets had been cut down and even the loudest Hawkeye fan had ceased screaming in joy. “But I saw an opening and drove.”
Aren’t we glad he did? The 6-foot 10-inch junior from Iowa City – who wasn’t in the starting lineup because of matchup problems with the quick Hoyas – saw Craig “Big Sky” Shelton moving in but felt he had position, drove and put in what, as of this moment, is Iowa’s most important goal of a happy season.
“He got loose and I tried to establish the best position I could,” said Shelton, who got his hand tangled in the net, picked up his fifth foul and sat down for what was the end of his season with 16 points as Georgetown lost for the first time in 16 games.
Waite had a free throw yet to come and the Hoyas did the customary stuff in taking a time out to make him sweat. Steve sat on the bench, trying to ignore well-wishing teammates who kept saying things like “don’t worry.”
“I told ’em, ‘I’m not worrying,'” insisted Waite. “I’m only a 60 percent free thrower statistically, but I was 100 percent sure I’d make this one.”
And he did, thereby extending the season for a team that finished fourth in the Big Ten but is 12-for-12 now against non-conference foes heading into the NCAA semifinal clash with Louisville.
Up by three points, Iowa played it cozy as Georgetown fired the length of the floor to Mike Frazier, a 7-foot reserve center. Frazier’s shot dipped in and out and was tapped in by reserve Jeff Bullis.
“I told `em, `I’m not worrying,’ I’m only a 60 percent free thrower statistically, but I was 100 percent sure I’d make this one.”
You may believe Iowa was not playing the Big D at this moment, for a foul would have been a disaster. There was no time showing on the clock but there had to be a tick or two left for Georgetown took time.
Iowa had the ball, of course. And as soon as Kevin Boyle threw it in to Lester, the game was over. Pandemonium was just starting however and Vince Brookins, Iowa’s leading scorer with 22 led the assault on the nets.
“A typical effort for us, typifying the entire season. We absolutely refused to give up under any circumstances,” said Olson. “We’ve been down many times crossed off many times, but we never gave up.”
There was a reason for a lesser team to get discouraged Sunday for the Hoyas just may be the best team Iowa has faced all season in an injury riddled year in which seven players basically fought through pain and discouragements to achieve what is now a 23-8 record – and still going.
Georgetown has talented starters and a deep bench. At game’s end, Floyd had 31 points and had caused a lot of the early problems when the Hawkeyes weren’t shooting as well as near the end and Georgetown was.
Actually that isn’t quite so. Iowa was shooting well, but not getting the kind of shots that consistently win. The Hawkeyes couldn’t get inside against a big front line featuring at times, 6-7, 6-7, and 7-0.
It was Brookins and Kenny Arnold from too far out for comfort. Iowa first lead at 16-15 and that was just for a moment. The next time they led was at 74-72 deep in the second half.
In between, Floyd and Big Sky had a lot to do with a run of 14 unanswered points, spanning the end of the first half and the start of the second that got the lead up to 14 for the team ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press poll.
“We talked about Iowa not having been able to get inside at halftime,” said Coach John Thompson, of the Hoyas. “When they did do it in the middle of the second half, it was because of their patience.”
“They deserve great credit. They shot well over the zone, played well against our man-for-man and anytime a team can go out of its region and win four games, as Iowa has in the East it’s an outstanding team.”
Later, someone asked Lute how it felt to be the best team in the East.
“It feels good,” retorted Olsen. “When we started at Greensboro as an unranked fourth-place team from the Big Ten, people didn’t seem to know if we were from Iowa, Idaho or Ohio. I’m sure they know now.”
You would think so for the small band that wasn’t ranked in the national polls at season’s end is now in the Final Four for only the third time in school history. The 1955 team finished fourth and the ’56 team was second.
Waite’s outstanding play started much earlier than the final points, for he came in for Steve Krafcisin when the Hawks were still down by a dozen and Boyle had just picked up his fourth foul.
Olson started Brookins at the power forward in place of Waite because Big Sky is a leaper and Lute wanted to have a couple of hands up high to try and pressure his shots. Vince is “very good at that sort of thing.”
Krafcisin was not playing a strong game under the boards, Boyle was hampered by fouls and Lute told Waite to get in there, be the first guy to lift his feet off the floor in search of rebounds and play it tough.
Everybody should respond to suggestions as well as Wait did in this case. He finished with 15 points and four rebounds in a game in which no player was able to dominate the boards.
Starting when Waite rebounded a missed shot for a goal to pull the Hawks to within two points at 68-66, Iowa made its next seven shots. This team has a way of rising to great shooting heights in second halves and that’s why it is where it is.
Waite didn’t miss a shot in the entire game, hitting all four field-goals and seven free-throw attempts. Bob Hansen, the freshman from West Des Moines, also was perfect, hitting two of two from the field and four of four from the line.
“I thought the turning point was when Boyle stole the ball and went in for a layup,” said Kenny Arnold, who teamed with Brookins for the early scoring to keep Iowa going and finished with 12 points.
“One of their guys threw a slow pass,” said Boyle.
Boyle’s streaking goal brought that lead at 74-72 and it was going crazy from there to the end. One of the nicest things in the world is to have Lester on your side when controlling the ball is a factor.
“I thought Ronnie played super. He had no turnovers and nine assists,” said Olson. “Our free throwing, 19 of 20, was super too. Maybe we’re not a good free throwing team when it doesn’t count, but we come through when it does.”
And after the game had ended various Hawkeyes were suddenly celebrities, giving interviews, and Lute was expounding philosophy, history and wisdom, plus some Iowa lore.
“Western Union made a fortune on us this week. One town sent a telegram signed by everybody in town. I don’t know what it cost, but we could have used the cost for meal money tonight.”
The town: “North Liberty, I think,” said Olson.
On the strategy of the comeback: “We prayed a lot… then our designated driver took it to the basket,” said Olson.
And I suspect those prayers were being shared by the multitude of Hawkeye fans listening to ex-Cyclone all-American Gary Thompson help do the game on national TV for NBC.
Here’s a list of “MAD” Moments that have appeared previously inside hawkeyesports.com.