By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - This past weekend was one to cherish for Hawkeye fans.
The depleted Iowa men’s basketball team overcame its star player being in foul trouble, and an eight-point deficit late in the second half, to defeat Minnesota 58-55 on Sunday in Minneapolis.
The top-ranked Iowa wrestling team crushed No. 7 Minnesota 35-6 on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to cap an undefeated Big Ten season.
The Iowa baseball team won two of three games at the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Fla., to start the season.
The Iowa softball team finished 3-1 at the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in Atlanta, Ga., and improved to 7-2 on the season.
And the Iowa women’s basketball team got back on the winning track by pounding Wisconsin 97-71 on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the annual Pink Game, in which six women, who are either currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer or are survivors were recognized. The six women were introduced with the team, and were recognized during the first media timeout.
The women’s game drew 9,506 fans and they were treated to a fine performance on the court, and to a noble cause.
Iowa was coming off a 93-59 loss at Maryland in its previous game, so there was a sense of urgency to get back on the winning track.
Combine that with the emotion from the Pink Game and there was certainly motivation for No. 17 Iowa to perform well, and that’s what happened.
"Bouncing back from Thursday, we needed that great fan support,” said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. “For that many people to come and support us, we were thrilled and can't thank our fans enough."
This past weekend was sort of an example of what’s happened all winter as the men’s and women’s basketball teams continue to defy expectations, while the wrestling team continues to dominate.
The difference now is that baseball and softball are both in full swing, and so far, so good.
The Iowa baseball team is in the midst of a historic run under seventh-year head coach Rick Heller after having won at least 30 games in each of his first six seasons.
So there is reason to be optimistic about this season, especially with 11 pitchers returning, including two-thirds of the rotation.
Softball, on the other hand, is more wait-and-see with Renee Gillispie in her second season as head coach.
Iowa only finished 19-32 in Gillispie’s first season, but she has since added 13 new players as part of a roster and culture overhaul, and they’re paying dividends.
It’s still early, and the Big Ten grind has a way of humbling teams and crushing momentum.
But there are early indicators that Iowa is moving in the right direction under Gillispie, who was the guest on Monday’s Allhawkeyes/KCJJ radio show and podcast.
Gillispie said she isn’t surprised by Iowa’s early success because she believes that Iowa has two quality pitchers in Allison Doocy and Lauren Shaw, and an offense that continues to evolve.
The current situation is as good as it’s been for a long time with Hawkeye athletics.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams are both locks at this stage to make the NCAA Tournament, and are playing more for higher seeds right now, while the Iowa wrestling team has its best chance by far of winning the national title since it last did so in 2010.
Iowa looks better than Penn State on paper, and was better on the mat on Jan 31st when the Hawkeyes edged Penn State 19-17 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It would sure help the Iowa men’s basketball team to get freshman guard C.J. Fredrick back from an ankle injury as soon as possible, but you also don’t want him to rush back, either.
Fran McCaffery's depleted squad proved on Sunday that even without three original starters Iowa still is formidable.
Junior center Luka Garza is having one of the greatest individual seasons in program history, and seems a lock at this stage to win Big Ten Player of the Year
Senior guard Kathleen Doyle is also performing at an extremely high level for the Iowa women, and should get serious consideration for Big Ten Player of Year as well.
A strong case also could be made for Lisa Bluder to win Big Ten Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season because what her team is accomplishing without Megan Gustafson, Hannah Stewart and Tania Davis is nothing short of extraordinary.
I thought Iowa would be lucky to make the NCAA Tournament this season without Gustafson, but Bluder, obviously, thought differently, as did her players, and that's what really matters.
This is also in my opinion Fran McCaffery's best season at Iowa in terms of getting the most out of his players.
This past weekend was a reminder that Iowa fans have a lot to be excited about as the winter sports season enters the home stretch, and with spring sports just starting.
And remember, the Iowa men’s track and field team is the defending Big Ten Outdoor champion, and the women’s program is also on the rise under Joey Woody.
Times are good right now.