And then there's Indiana's Bob Knight, who said, "Nobody in our conference is better than Illinois," after his new center, Garrett, scored 20 points and blocked six shots, including a potential game-tier by Illini muscle man Ken Norman in the Hoosiers' pulsating 69-66 home victory Wednesday. "We had no illusions that this would be anything but possession-by-possession and down-to-the-wire," said Knight. "I just don't know how good we are."
Plenty good, considering that the Illini's Doug Altenberger hounded Alford into 3-for-11 shooting and shut him out from three-point range for the first time this season. Alford, Altenberger and Norman combined to miss 30 shots in a fierce defensive struggle. But on Saturday, Indiana's senior All-America nailed a more routine 31 while the 6'10" Garrett soared for 14 points, 10 rebounds and 5 more blocks as the Hoosiers whipped visiting Purdue 88-77.
Indiana and Illinois were never separated by more than four points, making their encounter atypical of the other Big conTender clashes. The Hoosiers had a 13-point lead on Purdue but gave it all away before rallying at the end. Purdue scored 16 in a row at Ohio State but needed the Bucks' Kip Lomax to hurl a late pass out of bounds to win. Iowa made that 22-point comeback to win at Illinois on Jan. 14. Michigan went ahead of Iowa by 15, but the Hawks weren't dead until Rice scored the last of his 33 points in a 100-92 victory.
"The game is never over in this league," said Alford, who had to be rushed back in against Purdue with 42 seconds left to help save the win. This, nine days after Indiana's defense had held Iowa to 101 points. It was the first time a team had ever ripped a Knight-coached Hoosier squad for triple figures.
The stunningly deep and explosive Hawkeyes crash the glass relentlessly. They outrebounded Purdue 43-24, Illinois 49-31 and proud Indiana 46-19 (27-2 at the offensive end). Think maybe a few flies on the wall of the Hoosier dressing room got squooshed by a flying chair? "In practice, you can't quite duplicate the quickness and aggressiveness they have," said Knight. "They keep coming at you."
The Hawks are so tough they took on their school's national champion wrestling team, fighting it to a draw outside an Iowa City bar behind the fists of 6'8", 225-pound center Ed Horton.
"The best rebounding team I've ever seen," says Illinois' Henson of the young (only three seniors in the 10-deep revolving lineup) and relentless Iowans, who lead the nation with a board differential of 13 per game. And they're still learning, while at the same time giving lessons to their opponents. Purdue forward Doug Lee: "We had been concentrating on blocking out. They just send everybody and splatter you. Forget technique. We're just going after it now."
Iowa's new coach, Tom Davis, is a Phil Donahue look-alike, with a Ph.D. in history, who put a hockey school (Boston College) on the basketball map and then took a sabbatical to a school school (Stanford) where his progressive scheme of multiple substitution and bounce-passing might have worked if he could have bounced any passers past the admissions department. For all his but-toned-down style and polished imagery, though, Davis left few friends in New England, where he presided—unknowingly—over the BC point-shaving scandal and was known as Dr. Snake. When Davis's former assistant and successor at BC, the more popular Williams, and OSU handed the good doctor his first defeat at Iowa, a lot of Bostonians could not have been more pleased.
At Iowa, Davis is winning with the same players former coach George Raveling went 20-12 with last season. So what gives? This: The doctor can adapt, adjust, fit personnel to positions and situations, teach whole-grain, 94-foot pressure and coach the daylights out of the game. "You can give the doctor all the credit for this team," says Kevin Mackey, another Davis protégé, who coached the last outfit, Cleveland State, to press Indiana into oblivion—in last year's NCAA tournament. "He's the best. The Doc and Gary will change the Big Ten forever."
Four of Raveling's starters returned to Iowa, but Davis starts only one, Marble. The changes Davis wrought in Iowa City include the conversion of 6'6" Kevin Gamble and the resourceful 7-foot Brad Lohaus from non-contributing pine-timers to, respectively, the off-guard who saved the Purdue game and the mobile forward who is second on the team in three-point goals and mans the point on the press. Moreover, when point guard-designate Michael Reaves and center Gerry Wright—Sir Jamalot of cartwheel-dunk fame—went down with injuries, Davis gave their positions to B.J. Armstrong and the combative Horton, with heroic results. Sophomore Marble is a scorer of Jordanian potential up front, and the fist-brandishing guard, Jeff Moe, is probably the best—he is unrivaled as the most obnoxious—sixth man in the land.