Iowa-Iowa State means more as programs improve

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April 1, 2014 | 3:04 am

IOWA CITY — Iowa freshman Adam Woodbury never wore an Iowa State T-shirt as a youth in Sioux City, nor did he have any desire to do so.

His father, Lance, is a die-hard Iowa fan and it rubbed off. If Adam planned to change allegiances, well, he’d have to do that on his own.

“I think that’s how most kids grow up, unless they want to be rebels,” said Woodbury, an 18-year-old freshman. “I just kind of fell in line. I loved (Jeff) Horner and (Adam) Haluska and those guys growing up.”

On the other side of the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry, which reignites tonight at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, is ISU Coach Fred Hoiberg. Few basketball fans on either side need an introduction to Hoiberg as player or coach. He’s 2-0 as a coach and was 3-1 as a player. But the Ames’ native appreciates the rivalry extends way beyond his playing days of the mid-1990s or the current coaching circuit.

“I grew up with this series,” Hoiberg said. “I was a ball boy watching these series. I was a fan — I sat back and watched Lafester Rhodes pour in 54 in a two-overtime win at Hilton Coliseum (in 1987). I was sitting behind the bench for that game. Played in the series, had three great wins there and now coaching in it is a lot of fun as well. So, yeah, it’s a big game.”

Iowa-Iowa State in any sport means something. In basketball, the stakes are raised this year. The programs limped through the latter parts of the 2000s but last year they surged. Iowa State qualified for its first NCAA tournament since 2005, knocking out defending champ UConn in its first game before bowing to eventual champion Kentucky in the finale. Iowa earned an NIT berth, its first postseason bid since 2006.

Each year the game provides a measuring stick for the schools. This year, it’s not just about bragging rights; it’s about how the schools can perform against a quality team in an intense environment. It’s about the future as much as it is the present.

“I don’t really look too much at the rivalry aspect,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “I look at it as it’s a tremendous opportunity to play a really good team. I mean, this is a team that will be ranked. If they’re not ranked yet, they’re going to be ranked.

“They’ve got a very experienced team. They’re physically built like Big Ten teams. Be one of the best teams in the Big 12, no question. It’s a tremendous challenge, especially for our young players. It will be a great barometer. If we play well, that will be terrific. But if not, then we learn and we move forward.”

“Whoever wins this game, it will be a big win for the resume once tournament time comes,” Hoiberg said.

The atmosphere will be live, so poise is at a premium. Controlling emotion is as important as generating it, Iowa guard Devyn Marble said.

“You don’t want to make it too big, bigger than it already is,” Marble said. “But when a lot of guys play in a game like this, they start to see quicker shots and more erratic play. You want to be as calm and normal as possible.”

“I know it’s pretty crazy,” Iowa State guard Will Clyburn said. “Me being here last year and seeing how everyone talks about it and gets very excited about it, it’s a big thing here.”

Iowa State has tied a school record with three straight series wins. Another vaults the Cyclones into immortality. It would give ISU bragging rights four straight seasons, something Woodbury wants to avoid any cost.

“You could ask any former Iowa player,” Woodbury said. “They could remember their record against Iowa State. They might not always remember their record against Purdue and teams like that, but the Iowa State record, they always remember.”

(Correspondent Rob Gray contributed to this report)

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