WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Iowa basketball fans might cringe when they hear this. But who wins Saturday's game at Purdue could be largely affected by the guys blowing the whistles.
How this Big Ten Conference showdown is officiated in when Purdue giant centers Isaac Haas (7-foot-2, 297 pounds) and A.J. Hammons (7-0, 261) are battling for position can be frustrating on both sidelines, and for fans screaming at their HDTVs.
"It's almost like when they had to officiate (Shaquille O'Neal) on the NBA level," Big Ten Network analyst and former Hawkeye great Jess Settles said. "Isaac Haas is so huge and so strong, there's no right or wrong way to officiate it. It's always just very subjective."
Haas and Hammons are never on the court at the same time. But one of them almost always is.
Fortunately for Iowa (13-6, 4-2 Big Ten), it has its own twin towers in 7-1 Adam Woodbury and 6-10 Gabe Olaseni. But, keeping them on the floor could prove to be an enormous challenge — much like defending Purdue (11-8, 3-3).
"Foul trouble is obviously something you're worried about," said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who saw Woodbury and Olaseni each pick up two first-half fouls in Tuesday's 82-50 loss at Wisconsin. "It's something we'll talk about. You've got to move your feet. You've got to keep your hands up. You can't get lazy."
The Iowa senior answered questions after an 82-50 defeat in Madison.
Together, Haas and Hammons average 20.0 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocked shots per game.
And then there's this scary stat: Haas ranks fourth in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (8.3).
Much like the old hack-a-Shaq strategy, fouling Haas isn't always a bad thing: He's only a 50.6 percent foul shooter. Hammons is at 64.3 percent.
"The game will be called the way it's called. We can change defenses," McCaffery said. "Every game, it's been a difficult challenge with regard to how you are defending the low post."
You might see Iowa go predominantly with a zone defense if Purdue's Kendall Stephens can't play. The 6-6 guard suffered a broken pinkie finger on his non-shooting hand in Wednesday's first half against Illinois. Stephens has been cleared by doctors but his status is classified as a game-time decision.
With Stephens out of the mix for the final 26 minutes, the Illini rallied to a 66-57 victory. Illinois held Haas and Hammons scoreless in the second half and to a combined 10 points overall, a season low. The Boilermakers were outrebounded for only the third time all year.
"Obviously you want to pack it in on these guys," Settles said.
Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday that Stephens' ability to catch, shoot and dribble would be evaluated before making a decision. Another thing has Painter's attention is preparing for a veteran Hawkeye team that wants to atone for Tuesday's meltdown in Madison — the second-worst loss of the McCaffery era.
"The thing that scares me is just how hard they play," Painter said. "Anytime you deal with guys that are competitive like they are, and you don't have a good day, you always bounce back."
Wednesday, Iowa players focused on their first day of second-semester studies — no basketball. McCaffery said Thursday's practice was terrific.
"It'd be impossible not to play better," McCaffery said. "Whether or not it's an incredible performance, that type of thing, we'll find out. I can assure you, we'll play harder. We'll play more together."
IOWA (13-6, 4-2) at PURDUE (11-8, 3-3)
•Specifics — 11:06 a.m. Saturday, Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Ind.
•Following the game — TV: Big Ten Network. Radio: WHO (1040 AM), WMT (600 AM) and the Hawkeye network. Satellite: Sirius (Ch. 113), XM (Ch. 195). Live scoring: hawkeyesports.com.
•Preview — The Hawkeyes haven't won in West Lafeyette since a 77-68 win on Feb. 1, 2006. ... Aaron White has 1,598 career points and needs 14 to surpass Jess Settles for No. 8 on Iowa's all-time list. ... Iowa ranks 15th nationally in free-throw percentage at 75.0 percent but shot 4-for-10 from the line in Tuesday's 82-50 loss to Wisconsin. Oddly, Purdue opponents are shooting 79.6 percent from the line in conference play.