BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The last college basketball team to go undefeated for an entire season played its home games here at Assembly Hall, 40 years ago – the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers.
Let that be a reminder how difficult it is to win every time out. There should be no shame or panic surrounding No. 5 Iowa’s 85-78 loss at No. 22 Indiana on Thursday night.
The Hawkeyes (19-5 overall, 10-2 in the Big Ten Conference) weren’t going to run the table. This was the toughest game left on the regular-season schedule. A 3½-point underdog overcame a 16-point deficit to take the lead midway through the second half and lost by seven.
It happens. Even the best teams lose games. There’s no reason to worry about the Hawkeyes.
Now, if Iowa loses Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. home game against winless-in-the-Big-Ten Minnesota (6-18, 0-12) on Sunday? Yes, feel free to panic.
But don’t count on that happening.
Said Peter Jok: “I have no doubt we’re going to bounce back on Sunday. We’re going to get mad.”
Said Jarrod Uthoff: “We’ll get back on track.”
Said coach Fran McCaffery: “That game was in the balance when we were down 16 in the first half. It could’ve gone to 25. It didn’t. We came back and took the lead. So there’s a lot of good things there. A lot of learning opportunities for everybody.”
Sure, Iowa’s Big Ten championship prospects would have been better by becoming the first team to win inside Assembly Hall this year. But the Hawkeyes are still one of three teams tied for first with six games to go in their quest for the program’s first regular-season conference title since 1978-79.
“The mindset’s still the same thing. We control our own destiny,” said Iowa center Adam Woodbury, who is making double-doubles now a regular thing. He had 13 points and tied career highs with 15 rebounds and 35 minutes Thursday. “We’ll take it a game at a time. We’re not going to fold and quit now. We’ve come too far, the program’s come too far. We’re going to get back after it (Friday) and get ready for Minnesota.”
By the way, for those wondering, Iowa does control its own destiny even though its only Big Ten losses are to the teams it’s tied with. Indiana (20-5, 10-2) comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a March 1 rematch, and even though Maryland (22-3, 10-2) beat Iowa in the teams' only meeting, a tie for a conference title counts as a conference title. Only Big Ten Tournament seeding is impacted by head-to-head results.
The Hawkeyes didn't play their best game Thursday. They fumbled the ball away in key spots, lacked intensity and missed too many free throws. But they are in the thick of the Big Ten title race with the toughest part of their schedule in the rear-view.
It’s worth enjoying – even the players understand that after a tough-to-swallow defeat.
“To be honest, this game was a blast. This atmosphere was awesome even though we didn’t come out with the W,” Iowa guard Mike Gesell said. “We’re going to be a better team because of this game. And we’re still in a good spot.”