Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa's goal vs. Minnesota: Winning, not avenging

Hawkeyes seek win Sunday against only Big Ten team to beat them

Minnesota center Liam Robbins defends against Iowa center Luka Garza (55) during the Gophers' 102-95 men's basketball wi
Minnesota center Liam Robbins defends against Iowa center Luka Garza (55) during the Gophers’ 102-95 men’s basketball win over the Hawkeyes last Dec. 25 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press)

Iowa’s lone loss in five Big Ten men’s basketball games was against Minnesota on Christmas night, a game in which the Hawkeyes led by seven points with 44 seconds left in regulation.

So, revenge is Iowa’s driving motivation Sunday (1:30 p.m., BTN) when it meets the Golden Gophers again, this time in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Right?

Uh, no.

Obviously, the No. 5 Hawkeyes weren’t happy about the result in Minneapolis and want to tell a different story on their home court against the No. 16 Golden Gophers. But revenge? That’s not atop their list of priorities.

“I think it’s less than people think,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Saturday. “If something in particular happened in a game that created bad blood, then I think it’s possible you could really want to have some revenge.

“We want to win a championship. We want to continue to get better. Everybody wants to play well. And I think I would have an expectation as a player and an expectation as a coach that when they toss it up, we’re going to play really hard.

“But I think there’s this feeling that, well, somebody made a comment that somebody posts on a bulletin board, or you lost a tough game. OK, now we’re going to play really, really, really, really, really hard.

“To me, there’s no difference. If you’re going to play really hard, you play really hard. There’s only one way to play. And that’s really hard. So that’s the expectation I have, and I think that’s how we’ll perform tomorrow. We’ll play really hard.”

It’s too early to say the Hawkeyes have hit their stride since that Minnesota game, but they have won all three games since, the last two on the road against Rutgers and Maryland. Iowa dissected Maryland 89-67 Wednesday with 53.7 percent shooting, good defense, and excellent play from non-starters.

Iowa’s bench players were just 4 of 15 from the field at Minnesota. At Maryland, they were 15 of 28 and scored 33 points.

This will be the second matchup of centers Liam Robbins of Minnesota and Luka Garza of Iowa. Seven-footer Robbins is easily the Big Ten’s leading shot-blocker. He had four blocks and 18 points against the Hawkeyes.

Robbins, the Davenport Assumption grad who transferred from Drake to Minnesota in the offseason, had a quad injury that hampered him in the Gophers’ 82-57 loss at Michigan Wednesday. He’s said to be good to go against Iowa.

Garza, the nation’s leading-scorer had 32 points and 17 rebounds at Minnesota.

Minnesota junior guard Marcus Carr joined Garza on the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 Watch List that was announced Wednesday. Carr had 30 points against Iowa.

As Carr goes, so go the Gophers. He has averaged 23.9 points in their 10 wins, 13.3 in their three defeats. Those losses all came on the road in conference play to ranked teams, by an average of 21.3 points.

Now they come to Carver, where Iowa is 8-0 and beat Purdue and Northwestern by 15 points apiece in its two most-recent games there.

It’s been said that living well is the best revenge. In sports, you can alter that to “playing well,” and that’s the Hawkeyes’ first priority in this game.

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