Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs #23 Iowa (11/27/1999)
When Steve Alford bolted Southwest Missouri State for Iowa City in the spring of 1999, he probably thought he’d seen the last of his nemesis in Dana Altman’s Creighton Bluejays. But as luck would have it, his first true road game as Hawkeye head coach came at the Civic Auditorium, in front of the team that had beaten him each of the last four times they’d played. It was the return game of a home-and-home series agreed upon by his predecessor, Tom Davis, and the Bluejays had won the previous year in Iowa City 75-73.
The Hawks were coming off of a shocking upset of defending national champion, and #1 ranked, UCONN at MSG in Alford’s first game as coach, and brought a #23 ranking into Omaha on November 27, 1999 for this clash with the Bluejays. The Hawkeyes being in town resulted in a sell-out crowd at the Civic — at 9,374 patrons, it was the fourth-largest ever at that time for a CU home game, the largest since 1974, and the first in excess of 9,000 since 1985 — and thanks to a large, rowdy contingent of Hawkeye fans from western Iowa, Creighton’s fans had to be a little bit louder than they might ordinarily have been to keep their home-court advantage.
What those fans saw was a fun, high-scoring, and at times quite chippy battle. Creighton set the tone early with their physical, pressing defense, and the Hawks never knew what hit them — sometimes literally. Starting forward Kyle Galloway played just two minutes after taking an elbow to the face from teammate Duez Henderson, starting center Jacob Jaacks played just seven minutes in the first half after picking up three cheap fouls because he let Alan Huss and Donnie Johnson get into his head (in fact, his incessant pouting about Huss & Johnson left him ineffective even when he did play, and he forever endeared himself to the CU faithful with his middle-finger salute to the student section upon fouling out), and both Jaacks and Henderson fouled out before the final horn had sounded.
The Jays made seven of their first eight shots to open a 20-12 lead, and after Iowa closed the gap to 22-20, Ben Walker scored nine points over the next four minutes to push the lead back out to 33-26 with 6:48 to play in the half. A 10-3 Iowa run cut the lead to 39-36, but their momentum came to a screeching halt when Alford blew his top and was assessed a technical foul. The resulting four-point play — a free throw from Ryan Sears and a three-pointer by freshman Kyle Korver — pushed the lead back out to 43-36, and the Jays rode that head of steam into a 49-44 halftime edge.
Twice in the second half, Iowa made runs to cut it to a one-possession game, and both times they were turned away by Sears, the Ankeny, Iowa native. The second of those runs cut the Jays’ lead to 68-65 with 6:53 remaining, and then Sears rolled off a screen to hit a three-pointer to push the lead back out to six. A putback by Alan Huss and a three from Korver capped an 8-2 run, gave the Jays a 78-70 lead, and turned the remainder of the game into a free-throw shooting content. They’d make six of eight, and win 85-76.
“I give an incredible amount of credit to Creighton,” Alford said after the game. “We’ve had a lot of wars in the past when I was at SMS – some of them heated, I think, just because of the competitive rivalry of two good programs. They’ve got some tough kids. That’s the thing I’m most impressed with. Walker and Sears are just fierce competitors and tough kids. They beat us up. They beat us from start to finish. Just about every phase of the game you want to look at, they beat us in. I thought our inexperience really showed and they took advantage of it.”
For his part, Altman was pleased by the effort. “We caught a break or two. Galloway going down early was really a big break for us. Jaacks getting in foul trouble was really a break for us. We were lucky and fortunate, but we did play hard. I was very pleased with that. It was a game we needed. It’s a new team and there are new roles on the team, and they needed something good to happen. I hope they can build on it.”
They would, and in March they’d return to the NCAA Tournament after winning their second-straight MVC Tournament title. Their season ended with a 72-69 loss to Auburn when Walker’s desperation three at the buzzer barely missed. Meanwhile, it was all downhill for Iowa after the upset of UCONN in their first game; they stumbled to a 14-16 record.
Here’s an excerpt of what the World-Herald’s Tom Shatel wrote in the following morning’s paper:
“There’s no mistaking it, there’s a chemistry at work between Alford and Omaha. Sparks, words and bodies fly when he comes into the Civic Auditorium. He brings out the best Omaha crowds, and the best out of Creighton’s players. He’s the villain, the foil, the guy they love to boo, the coach they want to beat.
Alford and the Hawks no doubt are headed for bigger and better days together. But Saturday night will not be one of their better memories. Creighton outplayed, outshot and outhustled the Big Ten bullies while its own crowd outcheered the legion of Iowa fans that seemed to outnumber the men and women in blue.
It had to seem like old times for Alford, now 1 – 4 in the Civic Auditorium. You know he’s tired of seeing the Jays, who swept him at Southwest Missouri State in three games last year and kept him from winning the Missouri Valley Conference title. Alford must really hate these guys. He upsets No. 1 Connecticut in his first game. He’s the king of Iowa City. Then he comes to Omaha, and they do it to him again.”
The footage in this highlight reel comes from ESPN Plus, which used to produce a syndicated package of Hawkeye basketball games that were shown throughout Iowa and eastern Nebraska. As such, the announcers — Larry Morgan and Mac McCausland — are biased observers in favor of the Hawks, as you’d expect. Knowing the audience in Omaha would be split, however, Fox42 (which broadcasted the Iowa games in Omaha) produced a Creighton-centric halftime show featuring an interview with Coach Dana Altman. It’s kind of a fun time capsule so we’ve included that as a fun easter egg at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!
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