Commentary: Victory over UNI was a signature win for young program


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The timing was impeccable. The same night — nay — the same hour, that Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' arrest rocked the Iowa sporting psyche, the Iowa basketball team began to gain some positive news.

Now I'm not saying there's a changing of the guard, and basketball is about to overtake football for local fans' favorite sport. But should the hoops team ever want to gain equal ground on Mount Hawkeye, then Tuesday is a huge part of the bid process.

Ask coach Fran McCaffery, and he'll say that there are no benchmark wins. But in front of its largest student-section since last year's loss to Ohio State, and the most raucous crowd for a men's basketball in the young season, there's no denying that the Hawkeyes' 51-39 victory was important in getting some credibility back into Iowa basketball.

"We had a lot of fans out there," sophomore Eric May said about the 10,667 that came to view the in-state matchup. "It was good to get those guys a win and give them something to come here for."

But this wasn't just any win in Carver. This was Northern Iowa, the in-state former Cinderella and the small school from Cedar Falls that built a program into a powerhouse. It's not Duke, but don't forget that the Panthers had also won six-straight games against in-state opponents before Tuesday.

Now, forget about the opponent, and just look at the record. The Hawkeyes are 5-4, over .500. This is the first time Iowa has been above that mark since the morning of Feb. 25, 2009, when Iowa was 14-13. The Hawks lost to Michigan State that evening.

For the majority of the Iowa roster, this is the first over .500 record they've had in their career, a much different feeling to play with than the always doomed tones of team's past.

Surprisingly enough, it wasn't the fast break, Paul Westphal-esque offense that many of the first-time fans showed up hoping to see. Really, Iowa won a game that was reminiscent of last year's grinding offense. But the important thing in that last sentence is the word "won."

"It was kind of a benchmark game … we had great effort out there tonight," senior Jarryd Cole said.

If the credit to this win goes to anyone, it should be Cole. He seemed a man possessed, a man who knows he has just one year left on the hardwood, in his effort to pick up just his fourth career double-double.

And even his statistics symbolize a major change for the Hawkeyes this season.

Cole grabbed 15 rebounds, a career high, and the highest for any Hawkeye since Greg Brunner pulled down 23 in a game against Minnesota on Jan. 8, 2006.

The new crop played well, too: 14 points for freshman Melsahn Basabe and eight points and six assists for transfer Bryce Cartwright.

All of these statistics are benchmarks for Iowa. Things that can get better, but are certainly progress over the old.

With another game on Friday, against another in-state opponent no less (Iowa State), there's no rest for Iowa. But if the Hawkeyes can keep up all it showed tonight — the defense, the stats, and even the crowd — then maybe for the first time in a long time, there won't be any rest for opponents in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, either.

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