Portland, Ore. – Big Caleb came – but not that Caleb. Iowa Senior Caleb Grill had one of the best games of his life, scoring a career-high 31 points and leading Iowa to a come-from-behind second half with a 70-65 win over No. 1. North Carolina on Fri Semi-finals.
Meanwhile, Tar Heels star Caleb Love scored 12 points, but only three in the second half. An UNC team that was flirting with fire by playing close games against mediocre opponents was finally burned by failing to execute its offense down the stretch against the first powerhouse conference opponent, the Tar Heels (5-1) that played this season.
Going 2-22 for two seasons, Iowa State is starting the second straight season 5-0 under second-year head coach TJ Utzelberger, who is 6-7 against an AP Top 25 team in Iowa. He will play the 5-0 Hurricane No. 20 Okun in the PKI Championship match on Sunday.
This is a result that will make a huge change to the top of the upcoming AP Top 25 poll. You know what that means. It’s takeaway time. We have to start with the tar heel.
The loss of the UNC was not surprising at all
When I spoke to Leaky Black, the top official of the United Nations Command, on Thursday, he warned that he and his colleagues could not continue to go out and believed they could escape. The good about UNC: The heel didn’t come out flat. Led most of the first half, including a 30-21 lead with 5:36 remaining. Yes, ISU needed an outrageous shooting performance by Grill, but it’s clear at this point in the season that the Tar Heels aren’t playing with urgency, collective purpose, or confidence the way they did to close out the final month of last season.
Love also lights a fire. It’s voluntary to talk trash, and on Friday it ended up backfiring. The more he chirps at Grill, the more confident Grill gets and the more shots he gets.
“He was 4-for-24 when he came into the game from 3, and he hit a lot of hard shots,” Love told CBS Sports of Grill afterwards. “Some crazy shots, deep shots, hand in the face, nevermind. Credit to him.”
Love is credited with tipping his hat after trying and failing to throw Grill off his game for 40 minutes.
“We rushed a lot of our actions and we didn’t handle that very well,” said Loew. “On the defensive end, we weren’t guards. They hit a lot of jump shots, to their credit, but they played the better game.”
Perhaps enduring this kind of loss would serve the UN Command well. He had been eliminated in four of his previous five victories. Sometimes a loss like this is a face oven that can nudge a team into better habits.
Otzelberger can’t hold back his feelings
The victory marked the third time Iowa State has beaten a top team in the AP rankings in 23 attempts. The Hurricanes had wins against top-ranked Oklahoma on January 18, 2016, and Kansas, led by Wilt Chamberlain, on January 14, 1957. Utzelberger told CBS Sports that this was the first time he had been part of a team that won a No. 1.
And that’s how a wild celebration like this unfolds – in one of the smallest locker rooms I’ve ever seen.
We’re at the end of November, but thanks to the multi-team nature of these events, turbulence is served and you get March-like vibes on the weekend of Thanksgiving. It’s a lot to be grateful for, and the Hurricanes have shown it. After flooding the locker room, an emotion-soaked Otzelberger plunged into his post-game press conference. He talked about how committed he was to the job, and how this wasn’t a stepping stone for him.
“This is for life,” he said with tears in his eyes.
At 27-13 through 40 games at Iowa, it’s safe to say ISU fans feel more optimistic about their program than they have in six or seven years. Cyclones don’t play well, nor do they want to play well, but defense is an affront to every team’s sense of security. ISU ranks second in turnover percentage — it has turned over possessions 14 times over UNC — and should be considered a championship-worthy Big 12 team for the second straight season. Remember, ISU went 7-11 in the Big 12 regular season but entered the NCAAs as the No. 11 seed and got pushed into the Sweet 16.
Can UNC play at a high level without a bench?
No matter what UNC does to right its wrongs, I’m starting to wonder if there’s a cap to this team because of its people. It’s a worrying sign that Hubert Davis may have to go for the “Iron Five” look again this season — playing starters, mostly — because I think that’s going to take a toll more than necessary. Love, Black, Armando Bacot, RJ Davis and Pete Nance all played over 31 minutes against a physical opponent, after 28 hours getting a good run from Portland. drain a little. That’s a lot to ask. Iowa looked fresher to close out the game.
Puff Johnson, Seth Trimble, D’Marco Dunn – they’re not ready to be major contributors at this point. Does that change in the next six weeks? It just feels like it has to happen if UNC is going to grow to be a Final Four contender.
Davis wasn’t worried after that. He said that although a lot of last season’s team has returned, it is still a new team that needs to learn lessons and find its way. Personalities are evolving, guys are getting better at spots, but as a group, this team now isn’t nearly as good as the UNC team was in March.
“Just because you’re experienced doesn’t mean you’re perfect,” Davis said.
UNC is far from perfect, it shows. The question is if or when she will find her elite form, as that hasn’t been the case in a single match thus far.
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