POINT DAVE Sobolewski got the first 'Cat basket in their Thursday night meeting with Iowa at Welsh-Ryan. It was a three from the right wing and came with just over two minutes gone. John Shurna got the second, another three, 63 seconds later, and then it was the turn of Drew Crawford, who converted a fast break layup off a Hawkeye turnover. Next up was Reggie Hearn, who went up then under Roy Devyn Marble before spinning in a reverse layup, and finally came Alex Marcotullio, who got his own fast break layup off another Iowa turnover. All this took place in the game's first 7:30 and augured the 'Cat approach to this evening, which ended with each in that starting quintet in double figures. "As you guys know," Marcotullio would later say, "teams have been keying on John and Drew all year. So it's just time for other players to step up.". . .
REGGIE HEARN, two days before this evening, recalled their preparation for their previous game, their upset victory at Illinois last Sunday. It included the observation that the Illini would indeed be concentrating their defense on Shurna and Crawford, so he and Sobolewski and Marcotullio would have their shots. "Before every game, you have to weigh your options," Marcotullio said Thursday when asked if there had been a similar observation before they met the Hawkeyes. "Like I said before, Drew and John are getting keyed on every game. They're at the top of the other team's scouting reports. So I guess it was said that we could step up and hit some shots.". . .
SHURNA HIT enough shots to put up 17 points and Crawford did the same while scoring 11. But both those totals were below their season averages, so the key here was their supporting cast (to dust off a phrase popular back when the Bulls were Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and three other guys). Marcotullio, averaging 4.4, finished with 13 while going four-of-eight overall and three-of-seven on his threes. Hearn, averaging 6.8, finished with 16 while going five-of-eight overall and three-of-five on his threes. And Sobolewski, averaging 8.4, finished with a team-high 23 while going seven-of-eight overall and three-of-three on his threes. "Just a nice team victory, I thought. A lot of guys did some nice things out there," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody later purred. . .
THAT WAS especially true of Sobolewski, the fresh-faced freshman who dropped 20 on Penn State back on Jan. 1 in just his second Big Ten game. But then he faded, faltered and floundered, finally reaching the nadir at Minnesota just short of three weeks ago when he missed all five of his shots and failed to score a point. He only reclaimed his mellow nine days ago while scoring 15 against Nebraska, and then he followed that with 14 at Illinois and these 23 against the Hawkeyes. "I don't know," he would say when asked the reason for his resurrection. "I think a little bit of it is being more aggressive, a little bit is the other teams focusing on John and Drew. Juice (Thompson, the former 'Cat point whom he talks to often) and I have been joking about people saying I hit a wall (since he plays so many minutes). You use that kind of stuff for motivation.". . .
THE EXPERIENCED CARMODY, who has the fine eye of a jeweler, saw something else as his young point struggled. "I think he was getting too serious, he was getting a little tight," he explained. So did he tell him to relax, to just play ball? "No, because I don't think he'd fall for it. He's a pretty sharp kid, so let it go, let him work it out himself. But, you know, you coach him hard because he is a freshman. You can coach him hard and he snarls at you every once in awhile and all that. But in a good way. He's a competitor and he listens. We're talking all the time about what do you think we should be calling now. On offense what should we be doing? If you see what they're trying to do, how do we stop it? He's got a good basketball mind.". . .
THE MINDSET of all the 'Cats was acute against the Hawkeyes, who this season had already beaten Wisconsin and Michigan and Minnesota (twice). "Basically, it was just, not take quick shots, but push the ball. If you have good looks, take them, but if you don't have something you really feel good about, run the offense," Carmody would say of their offensive approach in this game, and the 'Cats did just that. They pushed quick enough to get 13 fast break points, but also ran their offense well enough to shoot 56.3 percent overall and 52 percent on their threes. Their 1-3-1 zone, on the other end, often flummoxed the Hawkeyes, who in its face committed 18 turnovers that led to 20 more 'Cat points. "They had some turnovers there, yeah," said Carmody. "But more importantly, I just thought they felt a little uncomfortable against it.". . .
HIS TEAM'S lead, less than two minutes into the second half, was a still-uncomfortable nine, but if there was a pivot on which this game turned, it popped up here. It popped up when, on a single 'Cat possession and in the space of just 48 seconds, Iowa picked up its third, fourth, fifth and sixth team fouls of the half. "That was a big impact. It's tough. You guard a lot of stuff," Hawkeye coach Fran McCaffery later said, but now they could not guard it too aggressively since their next foul would send the 'Cats to the line. "I don't think they backed off at all. At halftime, their coach was harping on picking up defensive pressure," Sobolewski would first say when asked about that. But then, after a breath, he would add, "We got them to commit some early fouls and, yeah, maybe they did back off a little bit. They were in the bonus real quick. Knowing that, you can't really pressure the same. So, yeah, that was really good for us.". . .
THE 'CATS, in fact, were shooting the bonus with a yawning 16:39 remaining in the game and, on their next two possessions, got a back-door dunk from Crawford and a layup by Shurna. Now the Hawkeyes switched to a zone, not the preferred defense for a team trying to force the action and rally, and here the 'Cats not only built a nine-point lead up to 15 over the next seven minutes. They also played bleed-the-clock. "Once they got into the zone," explained Sobolewski, "we wanted to work at least 20 seconds off of the shot clock. In the zone, they don't pressure as much. Yeah, we did a really good job once they went back in the zone. We moved the ball really well and got a lot of good, open shots.". . .
THOSE SHOTS would build the 'Cat lead to as much as 24, would produce a 'Cat win by a comfortable 19, would finally send the 'Cats soaring off on a mini jaunt that lands them at Purdue on Sunday and at Indiana on Wednesday. "I think we've played decently the whole year, to tell you the truth," Carmody would then say when asked about his team's three-game winning streak. "Now we've had some rough games on the road and we've lost some real heartbreakers. But I think it's a good team. Now we have to go play two games on the road, so we'll see. We've lost two games at home and won one game on the road, at Illinois. Now we've got to get back that other home loss. You win your home games and steal a couple on the road, that's what you have to do. Fred Hill, the assistant coach, after the Illinois game, he had on the blackboard, 1-0. It's the start of the second half (of the Big Ten schedule) here, and now it's 2-0. So we just have to go on a little run here."