In all of Iowathere is not a pigpen or a corncrib that is out of earshot of University ofIowa basketball broadcasts. Instead of a single "Voice of theHawkeyes," there is a whole chorus of voices emanating from Iowa City,Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Des Moines, all with announcers and sponsors oftheir own. One clear-channel station is so powerful that a transplanted Iowan,over the Rockies in California, has been driving to a spot near his home tolisten in.
The listening hasbeen pleasant. Going into last Saturday's game at Purdue, Iowa was leading theBig Ten with an 11-0 record. It had won 13 games in a row and had beatenIllinois on the road for the first time in eight years. The team was being ledby a relatively unknown 6'7" senior from Milwaukee, John Johnson, who candribble behind his back and between his legs, score almost 28 points a game andcan also pass quite nicely. In fact, most of the Hawkeyes are good passers, sothey have given themselves the acid rock-group nickname of J.J. and theDealers.
Saturday afternoonin Purdue's $6 million arena they dealt the ball around deftly in one of thefastest-moving games of the year and almost give their announcers collectivelaryngitis in the process. Iowa won 108-107 to take the Big Ten championship.It was Purdue's first defeat at home in 31 games and it came despite RickMount's 61 points.
Home-stateinterest in Iowa basketball is frantic, even though there happens to be onlyone Iowan in the starting lineup. He is Dick Jensen, and the threat of histaking a shot remains just that—a threat. He doesn't. At center, he does morethan his share on defense, but the sparkle comes from the other four,especially Johnson, who Coach Ralph Miller compares to a previous All-Americaof his at Wichita State, Dave Stallworth.
Johnson wasrecruited out of a junior college in Powell, Wyo., and was only Miller's thirdJC transfer in six years. The fourth and last transfer, Fred Brown, also camefrom Milwaukee. A good ball handling guard, he was the lone added ingredient tothis year's regulars. According to Miller, Brown made the adjustment tomajor-college basketball faster than any of the other JC transfers who haveplayed for him.
Brown's arrivalallowed 6'1" Chad Calabria to move up and play as a kind of third forward,using his western Pennsylvania alley-basketball background to good advantageinside. The fifth starter, Glenn (the Stick) Vidnovic, who grew up nearCalabria, looks like an Iowa farmer's scarecrow who has just shaken the hay outof his sleeves. He is listed as 6'5" and 190, but the student manager musthave been standing on the scales with him.
This hodgepodgeteam, 12-12 last season without Brown, woke up with a start after losing fourof its first six games. Before Saturday, it was two up on Purdue, the closestBig Ten team, but if the Hawkeyes lost, they would have to win their last twogames to avoid the possibility of a tie. This brought back memories of 1968.Iowa had only to beat Michigan at home to clinch the title. It lost, the BigTen race ended in a tie and Ohio State won the playoff.
Miller decidedthat in this game he would continue his policy of using no gimmick defense onMount—no parallelogram-and-one, no hexes, no triple-teaming. The Hawkeyesplayed Mount conventionally in Iowa City earlier in the season and, while hescored 53 points (Iowa Fieldhouse record), Iowa won the game. Miller felt itcould again. Central to his thinking was the belief, shared with other leaguecoaches, that Mount is protected like a little brother by the referees and getssix to 10 free throws a game he does not deserve. But Mount gets a lot ofcriticism, too.
"Anytime youhave a boy who gets as much publicity as Rick you're going to have thisproblem," said Purdue Coach George King. "It's an envy factor. Manytimes it's done with the idea of intimidating a fellow, but Rick does a greatjob of handling himself."
Even with Mount onhis side, King still had his worries. His team had won seven straight with arun-run offense and a man-to-man defense, yet the word on Iowa was that a zonedefense was much more effective against the quick, slick-passing Hawkeyes.
"It's nosecret, we've got to win the rest of our games," said King. "If Iowabeats us on our own floor, they'll be great champions. Our crowd will make theplace jump, believe me."
In anticipation ofthe jumping, one more radio station sent an announcer to join the chorus, fourTV stations picked up the telecast and the 14,123 capacity crowd jammed intothe roundhouse that has never had an empty seat for a Boilermakers' game.
Mount began as ifhe were casually popping the ball in a pickup game. He got Purdue's first fivebaskets although the referees definitely were not protecting him. They weren'tprotecting anybody from Purdue. Junior Larry Weatherford was charged with histhird foul after a little more than five minutes were gone, Mount with hissecond moments later, and the fans started throwing wadded paper on the floor.They were warned that the next missile would merit a technical on the homeforces.
Both teams turnedon their fast breaks at the slightest hint of an open space, but Purdue seemedto see more of them, building up a 10-point lead with 4:13 left in the half,then switching into a zone to keep from fouling. It was about then that Iowagot its break clicking. Aided by two three-point plays, the Hawkeyes grabbedthe lead by halftime 49-47 despite Mount's 32 points, the most he had everscored in a first half.
Miller neverwavered in the second half, and seemingly Mount never missed. Back to aman-to-man, Purdue moved out into the lead again. When it was still close, aprogram—wadded into a ball—came bouncing out onto the floor, and a technicalwas called. Calabria, who had just been fouled while making a basket, put inthe free throw for the foul and the free throw for the technical. Then it wasIowa's ball out of bounds, and Vidnovic hit a jumper—a six-point play.
Even so, it lookedas though Iowa could pack up its microphones when Mount hit his 58th and 59thpoints, and moments later Weatherford's jump shot put Purdue up by nine with4:36 left. But the Hawkeyes went into a three-two zone press and started totrim the lead. Brown made two free throws, Vidnovic hit a jumper after an Iowasteal and Brown made two jump shots in a row. With 1:39 left, Purdue led103-100.
Helped by a Purduecharging violation, Iowa finally took over the lead 106-105 on Johnson'sjumper. Purdue raced down, missed the shot and Mount purposely fouled Vidnovicwith 10 seconds left. The Stick put both of them in, proving that LSU's PeteMaravich is not the only skinny Serb who can play under pressure. Leading108-105, the Hawkeyes let Mount drive in for his last two points as time ranout.
At the end itseemed possible that the errant program had cost Purdue the game. Some localpartisans, including George King, thought so, and they hinted darkly that themissile had come from one of Iowa's allotted 24 spectator seats.
Weatherford added21 points to Mount's 61. But Iowa got 20 from Vidnovic, 23 from Brown, 25 fromCalabria and 26 from Johnson. After Coach Miller finished talking to KXIC, KCRGand WMT, he still had breath enough to call this his best team, ever. Andsomewhere out in California, passing motorists were wondering about thatstrange fellow who was going happily berserk in his parked car.