Iowa men's basketball dominates Iowa State in Kris Murray's absence, gives Fran McCaffery 500th win

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY − Coming off of a disappointing loss to Duke on Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden, the Iowa men's basketball team had little time to recover for Thursday night's game against rival Iowa State.

The spotlight on the Hawkeyes grew before tipoff when it was announced that star forward Kris Murray would miss the game due to a lower-body injury. Down its best offensive player, the question for Iowa was obvious: Who would step up in his place, and could the team break a four-game shooting slump against one of the nation's top defenses?

More:Iowa basketball's Kris Murray is out versus Iowa State with 'lower body' injury, return unclear

The answer was a resounding yes. No. 24 Iowa dominated No. 20 Iowa State and delivered a wire-to-wire 75-56 win in front of a nearly sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Players in postgame interviews estimated that the team didn't return to Iowa City until 5 a.m. on Wednesday after the Duke game. What did their schedule up until Thursday night look like? Here are the details:

They came in on Wednesday afternoon and reviewed the Duke film, went onto the court for some light work then returned back to film sessions to introduce the Iowa State game plan. They went to dinner, returned to the practice facility after the Iowa women's game and watched more film. They had two more film sessions Thursday with a shootaround in between.

The culmination: a 19-point win against the No. 20 team in the USA Today coaches poll and a coveted Quad 1 win that will look nice on an NCAA Tournament resume.

"We were all tired but who cares," said senior center Filip Rebraca. "No one cares that you're exhausted, hurt, banged up or whatever. We all had that mentality that it didn't matter and we remember (last year's 73-53 loss) so we just wanted to go out there and compete."

The Cy-Hawk Series win also gave head coach Fran McCaffery his 500th as a collegiate coach. Here are a few takeaways from Thursday night's victory:

Kris Murray's status for the foreseeable future is unknown

Murray, who was in a walking boot on Thursday night, doesn't have a clear return date at this time.

"I can't tell you how long he's going to be out," McCaffery said postgame.

Senior Connor McCaffery filled in nicely for Murray in the starting lineup, recording 14 points, four rebounds and three assists. It was a collective effort on Thursday night, with four of five starters scoring in double figures and the one who didn't, guard Ahron Ulis, scored 8 points.

"I feel like we shared the ball and played well offensively from the start," Connor McCaffery said. "We all played confidently. When people said Kris was out, we saw what was being said and we kind of felt like 'We know what we got, we know who we are.'"

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery, center, celebrates with his sons Jack, right, Patrick, left, and Connor, front, after Thursday's victory against Iowa State gave the coach 500 career wins.

After Sunday’s 5:30 p.m. (home) Big Ten Conference opener against Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes have only two games over the course of 17 days – against Southeast Missouri State and Eastern Illinois – before resuming league play at Nebraska on Dec 29.

Murray is doubtful for Sunday's game. Iowa's same starting lineup from Thursday: Ulis, Tony Perkins, Patrick McCaffery, Connor McCaffery and Rebraca will likely continue for the time being.

"I don't," Fran McCaffery said on if he expects Murray to play on Sunday. "I think it's early in the process to make that determination (of how long he'll be out)."

More:Defensive intensity shown in Cy-Hawk win an encouraging sign for No. 13 Iowa women's basketball

Filip Rebraca delivered his best game as an Iowa Hawkeye

The Hawkeyes raced out to a 15-0 start that was partly led by Rebraca's 6 points. The senior has been the most pleasant surprise this season. Coaches and teammates have praised him for his improved confidence and aggression. That was on display Thursday night with his best performance as a Hawkeye: 22 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

Rebraca was most effective in Iowa's pick-and-roll sets. Iowa State's "ice" defense forced Iowa's ball handlers away from the middle of the floor and gave Rebraca a lot of responsibility in the high post. His decision-making in those moments was critical to Iowa's offensive success. He took advantage of scoring opportunities (9-of-11 shooting, 2-for-2 from 3-point range) and found teammates when they were open, finishing with a season-high four assists.

"His decision-making in that role was really special tonight," Fran McCaffery said. "He does lack a couple inches at times, maybe 15 or 20 pounds, but he is so physical and so strong, and he's got tremendous athletic power, so it doesn't really affect him."

Rebraca's emergence early this season has been one of the big, positive storylines for Iowa. Fran McCaffery noted that Rebraca's second season in the system and the experience playing in the Big Ten are paying dividends right now. With Murray sidelined, the fifth-year senior will continue to have a sizeable role.

The McCaffery family speaks on the significance of 500th win

Connor McCaffery admitted after the game that in the excitement of beating Iowa State, he momentarily forgot that this was the 500th career win for his father, Fran McCaffery. A celebratory moment on the court with the team's entire contingent of the McCaffery family poured over (literally) into Iowa's locker room where Fran McCaffery was on the receiving end of two coolers full of water.

Fran McCaffery isn't big on individual accomplishments but offered some perspective on what the moment meant.

"I've been blessed," the coach said. "I've worked for great people. I've had tremendous coaches on my staff. I've had really good players everywhere I've been. So it does make you think a little bit ... With two (sons on the team) playing well, you think about family. I couldn't be sitting here without the tremendous commitment of my wife, daughter right there with us, my son Jack. It's an interesting journey. It's a difficult journey at times. But it's something we're built for."

Connor McCaffery characterized win No. 500 as a textbook win for his dad: sound execution and dominating the game's pace throughout. When asked what's enabled his father to amass 500 wins, Connor pointed to the system he runs, his ability as a talent evaluator and recruiter and his leadership.

Previously:Leistikow: Until Kris Murray returns, Hawkeyes find needed identity in rout of Iowa State

McCaffery's 500 wins include previous stops at Lehigh, UNC Greensboro and Sienna before Iowa. He's won conference championships at every school, a rare feat in itself, and Connor also noted that certain circumstances prevented him from reaching this milestone sooner ... which makes it even more impressive.

"He'd have more if he wasn't an assistant for 11 years at Notre Dame (1988-99)," Connor McCaffery said. "And almost everywhere he's been he's had to rebuild for the first couple of years so that's more seasons where he'd have more wins if he stayed in one spot. So I'm happy, especially in a game like tonight."