With apologies to Iowa's own Meredith (The Music Man) Willson:
Ya got trouble, Iowa.
Right here, I say.
Trouble right here in Iowa City.
Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with D and that stands for Darryl; and it rhymes with G and that stands for Gopher and that means Darryl Mitchell and the Minnesota Gophers.
The Big Ten took on a drastically different look last Saturday afternoon right there in Iowa City. Mitchell erased the Hawkeyes' one-game conference lead by calmly sinking two free throws after time had expired in the third OT of an epic struggle between those unfriendly neighbors, Minnesota and Iowa.
Not only did the foul shots give D a game-high 21 points and his Gs a 57-55 victory, but they also enabled Minnesota to tie the Hawkeyes for the league lead (both are 12-4 in the Big Ten, 20-5 overall) and spelled considerably more T for Iowa, because this week the Hawkeyes must play their final two conference games on the road while Minnesota is at home.
Mitchell, a 6'5" senior guard, was poised as he clutched a tough rebound after a missed Iowa shot with eight seconds left in Overtime 3. He looked under control as he dribbled up the floor and over the time line and then whirled 360 degrees to avoid a steal. "He overlapped it; he playgrounded it all the way," Iowa's freshman center, Michael Payne, said later. Mitchell seemed to be comfortable even as he jumped and launched a no-chance prayer from maybe 40 feet, and he acted merely relieved when the Hawks' Mark Gannon was whistled for the unnecessary, fateful foul.
The reasons for Mitchell's relative serenity weren't hard to guess. There was confidence born of his awareness that the Hawkeyes—notorious windsuckers in the stretch—had led the Big Ten in 1981 before losing their last two games and the championship, and that they seemed to be running scared in this season's race. And he couldn't help but feel satisfaction at having been given the opportunity to spoil an emotional orgy for the 13,365 teary-eyed faithful attending the final game at Iowa's 56-year-old Field House. Surely part of it was the pride he felt in the Gophers' having come from four points behind near the end of regulation and having survived Iowa's last-shot strategy in each overtime.
In 1980-81 Minnesota, playing with virtually the same cast, lost four of five overtime games and finished last in the Big Ten in free-throw percentage. But Mitchell looked so sure of victory even before he stepped to the line, buried his foul shots and enabled the Gophers to whip Iowa for a second time this season that nobody could doubt him later when he said, "I tell you, the throws were academic. Nothing to it. What I was worried about was the foul call. Now that was gutsy."
That Mitchell, a two-year sulker/head-case who wanted to redshirt this season until circumstances changed his attitude, saved the day wasn't so peculiar given the topsy-turviness of this strangest of Big Ten seasons. To wit: Iowa beat lowly Northwestern by a point while shooting 34.5%. Minnesota won at Purdue, a real disappointment this year, on a fluke foul. (Mitchell did the honors again, converting a one-and-one with one second left.) Iowa and Indiana split blowouts before which the defending national champion Hoosiers were beaten by Northwestern and after which the Hawkeyes were beaten by Michigan, then an eighth-place club. Minnesota lost twice to mediocre Illinois, which lost to feeble Michigan State, which lost to woeful Wisconsin, which shouldn't beat anybody this side of Canada. And Indiana Coach Bob Knight and his Hoosiers treated a Purdue coed to dinner. She called Knight "charming." You figure out the Big Ten.
Although a showdown between Minnesota and Iowa was hardly unexpected, their circuitous routes to the ancient battleground in the cornfields were mined with controversy.
The Gophers always have been considered Bunyanesque, even in a conference of bruisers. In recent years they have sent such heavy hitters as Mychal Thompson, Mark Olberding, Kevin McHale and, yes, Dave Winfield to the pros. In contrast, the current pivot, Randy Breuer, is a wispy, angular creature of 7'3" who veers through the lane for soft turn-either-way jumpers.
Breuer, a junior, is the key man on a roster otherwise dominated by seniors who, four years ago, were hyped as the best recruiting class in the land but have never really measured up. After two players left—Leo Rautins wound up at Syracuse, Kevin Stallings at Purdue—the remnants led by Mark Hall and Trent Tucker qualified for the NIT the past two seasons. But as Coach Jim Dutcher points out, "Our seniors haven't won the Big Ten or been to the NCAAs or collected any all-conference honors. Our fans have expressed disappointment, the media are upset. It all adds up to tremendous pressure."
Then just as the Gopher seniors were getting primed for their last shot at glory, an awkward situation involving Hall arose. When Hall, a 6'2" guard and Minnesota's best penetrator, was declared ineligible on Sept. 28 because of bad grades—in summer school he'd received an A in How to Study but a D in General Art—he sued the university for, in effect, his right to play ball. In a subsequent surprise, U.S. District Court Judge Miles W. Lord chastised Hall for his "insolence and arrogance," called the ideal of the student-athlete "a charade," but nevertheless ruled for Hall and ordered him admitted to a degree-granting program and reinstated on the team.
By the time Hall rejoined the Gophers, however, they were halfway through the season, and a happier Mitchell was filling Hall's role. Hall, his timing gone, was able to contribute only 38 points in 10 games. Well, how is a guy supposed to keep in shape when he's on the telephone? During legal proceedings it was revealed that Hall owed Northwestern Bell $969.78 in unpaid bills, and a campus investigation alleged that Hall had charged to the university as much as $800 more in personal calls.
Hall finally hung up the receiver long enough to quit the team for good last week. "It's a relief," Dutcher said. "Mark wasn't helping us. This thing had become bigger than our team. Why, we were being covered by editorial writers." Not to mention vultures.
Surely Iowa would put the visitors from the North out of their misery, what with the laws of average, reciprocity and passion working for the Hawkeyes in one of the sport's fiercest rivalries. Not even Dutcher realized the vicious nature of the competition between the Big Ten's westernmost outposts when he became Minnesota's head man. Gophers refer to Iowa as Baja Minnesota, and Hawkeyes have suggested ceding their northern tier of counties to Minnesota to raise the IQ of both states.
After the Gophers beat the Hawks 61-56 in January, Iowa Coach Lute Olson said the Minnesota coaching staff was "unethical" for psyching up their team by misquoting him. Breuer, who outscored Payne 22-4, had said, "Olson better stop living in the past. All he does is talk, talk, talk." Mitchell also said that to win the Gophers were prepared to "fight," if necessary.
Before the rematch, both teams low-keyed their differences. Besides, Olson had other matters to worry about, notably the Hawks' recent shooting slump (41.2% in a four-game, two-loss stretch) and his players' sense of déj√† vu. "It could be like last year," Forward Kevin Boyle said. "If we don't play together we're capable of being one of the worst teams in the nation."
On Saturday Iowa was hardly that in rallying from seven points behind in the first half and then from six down in the second. Bob Hansen scored 15 points coming off the Hawk bench, and Payne, a 6'11" bundle of moves even though he is paynefully skinny, was containing Breuer, who had 12 points and five rebounds, while amassing 12 and 12 himself. Minnesota's Tucker and Mitchell, however, were making baskets from so deep the Hawks needed radar to track the ball.
Behind 39-33, Iowa switched to a man-to-man defense (Boyle on Tucker) that propelled them to a 20-10 spurt and a 53-49 lead with 2:58 left. Sure enough, Mitchell again hit from out behind the silos. Then Gannon committed the first of his two stupid fouls, and Minnesota's John Wiley, a 21.4% free-throw shooter, hit both ends of a one-and-one to tie the game, at 53-53, for the 11th time.
Herewith, the Iowa endings:
Regulation. After holding the ball for the final 1:41, the Hawks' Kenny Arnold broke loose for a layup at :03. Whop! Out of nowhere, Breuer swatted the shot into the stands. Hansen's subsequent 25-footer bounced off the rim.
Overtime 1. After an exchange of baskets made the score 55-55 with 36 seconds left, the Hawks held the ball for a final shot. At :04 Steve Carfino drove around two picks to get in the clear, but slipped down and unleashed a one-handed, falling-away, set-shot iron smasher. Or, as it may be more commonly known in Carfino's hometown of Bellflower, Calif., the Mexican Hat Heave.
Overtime 2. With the score still 55-55 and the Hawks having maintained possession for four minutes, 35 seconds, Iowa set up another last shot for Hansen with five seconds left. But as Hansen jumped, the Gophers' Zebedee Howell stripped the ball from his grasp. For Minnesota: Zebedee doo dah.
Overtime 3. In trying to hold the ball again, the Hawks threw it away into Breuer's hands with 1:04 remaining, but 15 seconds later Mitchell was called for charging. Now Iowa worked the clock down to :08, at which juncture Hansen rushed into the open at the top of the circle. It was too far, too fast. But Hansen couldn't resist the opportunity. He shot and missed again.
"We kept telling our guys to keep it solid," said Dutcher, "to play tough and give the other people a chance to make the mistake." Finally, Iowa had made its last one.
As Mitchell grabbed the rebound and headed upcourt, he thought about calling a time-out but remembered that Minnesota didn't have any left. Mitchell also thought about passing—Tucker was wide open, screaming—and he decided against that, too. He simply juked, spun and jumped. "I probably should have done something else," Mitchell said, "but it was just one of those things."
That's with a capital T and that rhymes with OT-3 and that means trouble right there in Iowa City.
Breuer is ascendant here, but Payne outrebounded him and matched him point for point.
Hansen, shooting against Gary Holmes and Breuer, led the Iowa scorers with 15 points.
Iowa foundered during the game's three overtimes. Carfino fell down attempting the last shot of the first extra period (1), and Hansen messed up twice, losing the ball to Howell at the end of the second overtime (2) and trying a bad shot near the end of the third (3), Minnesota's Mitchell rebounded Hansen's second miss, got away from Hansen and Carfino (4) and drew a foul from Gannon as time expired (5). While Gannon and Carfino agonized over the call (6), Mitchell went to the line and sank the two winning free throws (7).
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