The last time an Iowa men’s basketball team faced the No. 1 team in the nation, it won convincingly.
The Hawkeyes scored first and never trailed, beating Michigan State 83-70 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Dec. 29, 2015. Mike Gesell had a career-high 25 points.
“It was one of the rare times in my career I thought we got, for (lack) of a better choice of words, punked,” Spartans Coach Tom Izzo said. “We got out-hustled.”
Iowa was unranked at the time. But the Hawkeyes were in the next AP Top 25, and climbed all the way to No. 3 by late January after starting the Big Ten season with eight wins.
That was as high as the Hawkeyes got and is as high as they’ve been until getting elevated to No. 3 last week. Here they are with a No. 1 opponent next, Gonzaga Saturday at 11 a.m. in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Iowa has never been in a 1-vs.-2 game. The only time it was in a 1-vs.-3 was on Jan. 22, 1987. Having reached No. 1 three days earlier, the 17-0 Hawkeyes hosted No. 3 Indiana, which came to Iowa City with an 11-game win streak.
The game was a meeting of two 5-0 Big Ten teams. Iowa had beaten No. 8 Illinois and No. 6 Purdue on the road in its previous two games.
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Indiana led 57-56 with a little over 16 minutes left, and Iowa guard B.J. Armstrong was scoreless. Armstrong finished with 16 points and the Hawkeyes got a 101-88 win. They out-rebounded the Hoosiers, 46-19. Steve Alford scored 21 for Indiana.
It was Bob Knight’s 467th game as the Hoosiers’ coach, but the first time one of his teams had allowed 100 points. The previous high, in fact, was 92.
“I have a little bit of an idea of how good you have to be to be No. 1,” Knight said after the game. “I think Iowa is very good, very difficult for anybody to beat.”
Iowa lost its next game, at home against Ohio State, and was dropped to No. 2 in the following poll. It was No. 4 the week after that. No Hawkeyes team had been ranked higher than that until the 2016 team got to No. 3 in 2016, and that lasted just one week.
If the Hawkeyes beat Gonzaga, they’ll be in Monday’s top two for sure, and could conceivably get voted above current No. 2 Baylor into the top slot. Baylor plays at Kansas State Saturday.
Saturday will be just the fifth time Iowa is in a meeting of top-five teams, and the first since the No. 3 Hawkeyes lost 66-59 at home to Lute Olson’s No. 4 Arizona team in December 1987. Scalpers got $100 per ticket for former Iowa coach Olson’s first game in Iowa City since he left in 1983.
“I attempted to downplay (the game) to our kids,” Olson said. “I didn’t fool ‘em for a second.
“They knew it was an important game, maybe a game their old coach wanted to win a little more than some of the others we play.”
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Iowa’s history against No. 1 teams is like almost everyone else’s. You lose way more than you win. The Hawkeyes are 3-21 against No. 1s.
In January 1965, an unranked, 9-5 Iowa beat No. 1 UCLA at Chicago Stadium, 87-82. Hawkeye players and fans carried first-year Iowa coach Ralph Miller off the floor.
UCLA proceeded to win its 15 remaining games and claimed the second of its 10 NCAA championships in a 12-year period under John Wooden.
Alford’s first game as Iowa’s coach was in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at New York’s Madison Square Garden in November 1999. The opponent was No. 1 Connecticut, which had defeated the Hawkeyes in the NCAA Sweet 16 eight months earlier on the way to the national title. That was Davis’ last game as Iowa’s coach.
A crowd of 19,548 — mostly UConn fans — saw the 16.5-point underdog Hawkeyes build a 17-point lead, fall behind briefly with seven minutes left, then go on to a 70-68 win.
Alford had stomach flu the night before. “I feel a lot better tonight,” he said after the victory.
No fans other than family members will be at 3,250-seat Sanford Pentagon Saturday for Gonzaga-Iowa. But this game is a biggie, as big a regular-season affair as the Hawkeyes have played in a long time.
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