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Surprising Iowa's Big 10 tournament championship tops year in sports

Monday, December 31, 2001

DES MOINES - The time was early March and Iowa was limping toward what looked to be an uneventful ending to its basketball season.

Leading scorer Luke Recker was out with a broken kneecap, backup guard Ryan Hogan was sidelined by a knee injury and the Hawkeyes had lost seven of their last eight regular-season games.

Then they got to Chicago for the Big Ten tournament and everything changed. Suddenly rejuvenated, Iowa won four games in four days to claim the tournament championship and earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.

The Hawkeyes' accomplishment was selected the No. 1 sports story in Iowa for 2001 by sports writers and broadcasters in voting compiled by The Associated Press.

It was a year in which the state's biggest athletic event, the Iowa-Iowa State football game, was moved because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a year in which Iowa State earned its second straight bowl trip but had to drop two sports to save money.

Iowa State wrestler Cael Sanderson continued to pile up the victories and the school's men's and women's basketball teams both won league championships.

Iowa also earned a bowl bid, its first since 1997. The trip ended a season that started with controversy: quarterback Jon Beutjer left the team after being attacked by teammate Sam Aiello during the summer. Northern Iowa returned to national prominence in football by winning the Gateway championship and reaching the semifinals of the Division I-AA playoffs.

But the surprising turn in fortunes for Iowa basketball emerged as the clear winner in the voting.

Coach Steve Alford's team had been 17-4 and in the thick of the Big Ten race when Recker went out. The Hawkeyes struggled to replace his scoring and clutch shooting and it appeared they'd have to settle for a berth in the NIT.

Then came the Big Ten tournament at the United Center. Behind Reggie Evans, the team's powerfully built rebounding machine, Iowa beat Northwestern, Ohio State and Penn State before knocking off Indiana 63-61 in the championship game. Evans was named the tournament's MVP.

"I can't say enough about these guys," Alford said. "I'm so proud of them for what they had to endure."

The title meant an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. Iowa beat Creighton in the first round and played gamely before losing to Kentucky in the second round.

The No. 2 story was Iowa State's decision to drop baseball and men's swimming, a move athletic director Bruce Van De Velde said would save $800,000 a year. The baseball team went out with a bang, earning a berth in the Big 12 tournament.

"You can't be all things for everybody unless you have unlimited resources and we don't have, anywhere in this country, unlimited resources," Van De Velde said. "At some point, you're going to hit the wall."

After three days of deliberation following the terrorist attacks, officials decided to postpone the Iowa-Iowa State football game in Ames from Sept. 15 to Nov. 24. That was the No. 3 story of the year.

The American flag flapping in the breeze was the only sound coming from an empty Jack Trice Stadium on the day the game was to be played. Iowa State beat Iowa 17-14 in the rescheduled game, the first between the two rivals at the end of the season.

Sanderson became the No. 4 story after breaking Dan Gable's record for consecutive victories and winning his third straight NCAA championship. With a 133-0 record heading into the holidays, Sanderson has a chance to become the first unbeaten four-time champion.

He has made such a mark on Iowa State wrestling that the university produced a Sanderson bobblehead.

The No. 5 story was Iowa State's repeat in football. Despite heavy graduation losses from a 9-3 team, the Cyclones went 7-4 and earned a berth in the Independence Bowl.

Iowa football finished sixth in the voting. After seasons of 1-10 and 3-9 under coach Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes went 6-5 and earned a berth in the Alamo Bowl. And it could have been an even better year. All five losses were by nine points or fewer.

This is the first time that Iowa State and Iowa both have gone to a bowl in the same season.

Beutjer's departure from the Iowa football team was the No. 7 story. He said he felt betrayed by the coaches, who initially downplayed the incident with Aiello. Beutjer, who had been beaten out for the starting quarterback job by Kyle McCann, transferred to Illinois.

Led by point guard Jamaal Tinsley, the Iowa State men's basketball team won the Big 12 regular-season championship for the second straight year. That was the No. 8 story.

The Cyclones went 13-3 in the league, but the season ended on a disappointing note. They lost to Baylor in the first round of the conference tournament and then, as a No. 2 seed, were upset by 15th-seeded Hampton in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Iowa State women's basketball team won the Big 12 tournament and reached the third round of the NCAA tournament. That was ninth in the voting. No. 10 was Northern Iowa's football conference championship, which came in Mark Farley's first year as coach.

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