116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Career win No. 500 for Fran McCaffery was a showcase of what a skilled coach builds over time.
It wasn’t so much the thorough 75-56 domination of Iowa State Thursday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but what McCaffery’s men’s basketball team dealt with beforehand.
Iowa was coming off a 12-point loss to Duke Tuesday night in New York, a showcase game in which they didn’t showcase themselves very well.
Not only did the Hawkeyes have to get off the deck from that, they arrived home at 5 a.m. Wednesday even with gaining an hour from the time-change. They had very short preparation time for the next night’s game against a nationally ranked Iowa State opponent that had been giving trouble to opponents a lot more than getting it.
Then, there was the realization Kris Murray had an issue that required a walking boot, and Murray is unavailable until further notice. This is a player averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds, so quite a vacuum had to be filled on short notice.
So Iowa’s players stepped up. They played with a fire, scored the game’s first 15 points, never let up until after they had a 29-point lead midway through the second half.
The Hawkeyes circled McCaffery and his family on the court after the game to celebrate the milestone. Things moved to the locker room, where his guys dumped mass quantities of water on him.
“You notice I’m not wearing the same clothes I had on,” he said near the end of his postgame press conference. “Everything was wet. Every piece of clothing was wet, I’ll leave it at that.”
This was a coach’s game. His players shunned fatigue, and watched a lot of unpleasant game film Wednesday and Thursday. They shook off the disappointment of losing a high-profile game in Madison Square Garden. They regarded Murray’s absence as opportunity, not burden.
“Guys get hurt all the time,” McCaffery said. “That’s why you have 13 scholarships. (Murray’s) out, Connor (McCaffery) steps in. Payton (Sandfort) is ready to go, everybody else is ready to go. We don’t talk about it, just move on.”
Connor McCaffery made his first start of the season, scored a season-high 14 points, drew five fouls, had four assists, played to win, won big.
Power forward Filip Rebraca had made one 3-pointer in his first 44 games as a Hawkeye. He tried two Thursday, sank both. He had 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks, and nine more points than he’d ever scored at Iowa, with 22.
Rebraca did enough flexing for a Mr. Universe pageant, and with reason. His game was strong.
“Boy, he was impressive tonight,” McCaffery said.
As was his whole team. It had a yearlong embarrassment to avenge, a 72-52 loss at Iowa State. All that state-rivalry jazz was as omnipresent as always when the two meet.
But once the players were reminded it was their coach’s 500th win at game’s end, their enthusiasm reached another level.
“How special the win was, the way that we competed — I feel like that’s exactly how he’s always wanted his teams to play,” Connor McCaffery said. “So I think it’s just a perfect win to exemplify win number 500.”
How do you get to 500 wins? Fran McCaffery credited those that have employed him, those who coached with him, those who played for him.
“I don’t consider myself having 500 wins,” he said. “I’m the coach. My responsibility is to put our guys in a position to win. I let them go win the game.”
Player/son Connor had a different answer.
“He knows what he’s doing. It’s just that simple,” Connor said. “He knows how to lead a team. He keeps us motivated. He’d have more than 500 if he wasn’t an assistant at Notre Dame for 12, 13 years. And pretty much every place he’s been he had to rebuild the first couple years.”
The program is in a good place now. This probably will be Iowa’s fifth-straight 20-win season. The talent level continues to rise. His guys were without a potential first-round draft pick in Murray and made a good Iowa State team look awful.
McCaffery doesn’t care to be especially reflective about himself in interview settings, but did say this about he and his basketball family:
“It’s an interesting journey. It’s a difficult journey at times. But it’s something we’re built for.”
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