Brown: Iowa-Rutgers rematch an NCAA world apart
IOWA CITY, Ia. – The last time I watched Iowa and Rutgers square off on a basketball court, the stakes were much higher than they were Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It was a first-round NCAA Tournament game in 1989 at the Providence Civic Center. Point guard B.J. Armstrong matched a career high with 35 points as Iowa advanced with an 87-73 victory over the Scarlet Knights.
Eddie Jordan, a Rutgers assistant during that 1989 game, is now in his second season as the Scarlet Knights' head coach. He didn't have to worry about Armstrong Thursday, but he's got plenty of other issues to deal with as he tries to rebuild the program he once starred for.
Iowa went on an 18-3 run early in the first half — punctuated by a pair of Adam Woodbury dunks — and breezed to an 81-47 victory.
It was the 10th straight loss for Rutgers and Jordan, who saw better times as a teammate of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Norm Nixon, Michael Cooper and Jamaal Wilkes on the Los Angeles Lakers' 1981-82 NBA championship team.
The fact that it was struggling Rutgers is one reason why the announced crowd of 12,594 was the lowest for a Big Ten game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena this season. Iowa's two disappointing losses last week was likely another factor.
But there was plenty at stake for these Hawkeyes. A loss would have been fatal to Iowa's hopes of a second straight NCAA berth.
"Obviously two losses that we really didn't like," senior forward Aaron White said of a home loss to Minnesota and an overtime loss at Northwestern last week. "We sat down and talked about what we can do to become a better team. That's how you've got to view a season in a team sport."
Rutgers was the perfect feel-good opponent.
"It was a confidence boost, to get a feel back for the game," said forward Jarrod Uthoff, one of four Hawkeyes in double figures with 14 points.
But I guarantee the Hawkeyes had more open looks Thursday than they'll see in the final five regular-season games combined. It starts at Nebraska Sunday, Iowa's first trip to Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers, 5-9 in the Big Ten after a 69-65 loss at No. 16 Maryland Thursday, will be a handful. So will Illinois, coming to Carver-Hawkeye Arena Wednesday. The Illini, like Iowa, are 7-6 in the Big Ten.
Back-to-back road games at Penn State (3-11) and Indiana (8-6) follow, then comes the regular-season finale against Northwestern (3-10) at home. Eight teams have winning Big Ten records after play Thursday. Someone might not get invited to the Big Dance.
Purdue made a big statement with a win at Indiana Thursday, improving to 10-4 in the Big Ten. It was the kind of win that opens the eyes of the NCAA selection committee. Iowa needs to open some eyes down the stretch, too.
"At this level when you lose you're down, when you win you're up," White said. "There are going to be ups and downs in a season. The great thing is to have good teammates, good coaches, good people around you and a positive outlook on everything to try and stay as even keel as possible."
In this roller coaster of a season, that's sage advice.