Weary Illini tasty treat for Iowa

Weary Illini tasty treat for Iowa

The Fighting Illini's seasonlong shortcoming made them putty in the hands of pressing, marauding Iowa on Thursday night.

A 20-turnover habit – mistakes numbered 22 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena – turned uncertainty into ball fumbling frustration, sweeping through Illini ranks like a flu epidemic.

When these attacking Hawkeyes got their teeth in the UI's soft underbelly, they not only disrupted play with suffocating pressure but intimated so thoroughly that the over-traveled visitors collapsed in other areas.

Check the free throws. While Illini fouls outnumbered Iowa just 22-16, the Hawkeyes drew 32 free throws to Illinois' 14, a sure indicator of which team was taking the ball to the hoop. Whereas Illinois went into the game vitally concerned about the perimeter marksmanship of Indiana conquerors Kent McCausland and Ryan Luehrsmann, the penetrating efforts of Dean Oliver and his slashing teammates were game-deciding elements.

Check the rebounds. The immense confidence of the Hawkeyes carried into the backboard wars where sixth-year enforcer Jess Settles, back more ornery than ever, bumped the Illini around and led to a 44-26 rebound advantage. Settles had a double-double (11 rebounds, 11 points) and pulled down six of the Hawkeyes' 16 offensive boards.

Iowans return with gusto

At halftime, Iowa returned from the locker room like Superman emerging from a telephone booth. Within minutes, it was "showtime" for native Illinoisans Joey Range and J.R. Koch, not to mention McCausland. The relaxed hosts shot 63.6 percent in those 20 minutes, seven players finishing between eight and 13 points.

Against this onslaught, only junior Cleotis Brown responded. Breaking a two-game slump, Brown led the good fight with 19 points. But, for whatever reason, Brown and UI scoring leader Cory Bradford can't seem to mesh. When one is on, the other is off. Bradford had a meager five points.

"We're working hard in an attempt to take better care of the basketball," a deeply concerned Illini coach Lon Kruger said. "We've had trouble with turnovers all year, and it isn't just the passers, it's the guys moving and getting open and communicating.

"Iowa controlled the tempo and whipped us in every phase. They were very active on both ends of the court. They have a lot of guys playing very hard and especially well right now."

What to do with Dr. Tom?

The question that won't go away in Iowa these days is what to do about lame duck coach Tom Davis.

On one hand you have athletic director Bob Bowlsby, who declined overtures from Duke to stay put at $300,000 per year. Bowlsby is becoming a national power, having chaired Division I's Management Council in the first two years of its existence as policy maker for major college sports. This council drew praise for applying quick fixes in the flawed Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse and student-athlete employment problems.

Bowlsby had Iowans on his side last spring when he attempted to buy up the final year of Dr. Tom's contract. But the school administration did not agree that Davis deserved to be fired, and advised Bowlsby to let him coach the final year.

Now confusion is setting in. What if Davis, on a 10-game win streak and 3-0 in the Big Ten, keeps winning? What if he posts his sixth consecutive win over Indiana in late February? What if he is Coach of the Year?

Bowlsby has made it clear, as late as this week, that Davis won't be retained under any circumstances. Bowlsby even made the mistake of explaining why, pointing to (among other things) a weak preconference basketball schedule (doesn't that fall within the AD's work description?) and questionable citizenship from such "bad boys" as former Hawkeye Chris Kingsbury.

Suddenly, the same fans calling for Davis' ouster last March – when the Hawks closed in a 9-for-14 slump – are questioning the decision-making of Bowlsby, who in their view let Oklahoma beat them to Hawkeye favorite Bobby Stoops as football coach.

One last point. Because of the limbo situation, Iowa has lost two key in-state basketball recruits and next year could be short-handed after Sam Okey plays out his final season along with Settles, McCausland, Koch and Jason Bauer. So whoever takes over will be fighting to get out of the second division in 2000.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette.

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