I only had the pleasure of covering a game involving a Don “Bear” Haskins-coached team once, but what a game it was.
It was 1987 in Tucson, Arizona. Haskins’ Texas-El Paso team upset Arizona on its homecourt in the first round and Iowa had a walkover against Santa Clara. So the Hawkeyes met UTEP in the second round.
Haskins, who coached UTEP (then called Texas Western) to the national title 21 years earlier, seemed bemused after the 98-91 overtime win over Lute Olson’s Arizona team. He had four players foul out in regulation, but his men still found a way to win. Iowa fans had fretted about possibly playing Arizona on its home court in the second round. It turns out that probably would have been the preferable option that year., before Olson really had Arizona turned into a full-fledged powerhouse.
The UTEP-Iowa game was a thriller. Iowa was down by four points at halftime and UTEP led by six with seven minutes left. But as we saw so many times from the Hawkeyes that season, few deficits couldn’t be made up. Iowa won, 84-82.
It was one of the few times all season that Iowa’s full-court press didn’t bother the opposition.
”I worried so much about the press I totally hadn’t even thought of how much difference there was in size,” said Haskins. ”Their depth broke us down. We broke down defensively and that’s where they got us.”
But man, did he have his team well-coached for those two games in Tucson. Iowa’s run to the West Regional final could very easily have been cut short in the second round.
Haskins died Sunday at age 78. For a wonderful essay on Haskins by the sportswriter who perhaps knew him best, I direct you to this piece by Dan Wetzel: