Steve Alford wasn't feeling well before his first game as coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes. You couldn't get the smile off his face after it.
With almost a whole new team from last season, Iowa stunned top-ranked and defending national champion Connecticut 70-68 Thursday night in the opening round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden.
That's right. Iowa, a team not even given a chance to win its conference, knocked off the team favored to win it all.
The Hawkeyes looked like the veteran team, opening a 16-4 lead on the way to a 36-21 halftime advantage as the Huskies shot just 26 percent and had twice as many turnovers (14) as field goals.
In the second half, Connecticut looked more like the team that returns three starters from the national champions, and even took the lead once. But the Hawkeyes refused to fold.
Iowa will meet No. 13 Stanford in Friday night's championship game. The Cardinal beat No. 10 Duke 80-79 in overtime Thursday night.
Jacob Jaacks had 20 points for Iowa, Dean Oliver added 14 and Kyle Galloway had 11.
"What better way to start off a season than to beat the No. 1 team," said Oliver, whose second-half minutes were limited by foul trouble.
Khalid El-Amin, focus of a newspaper story earlier in the day about a possible NCAA violation involving a borrowed car, had 26 points for the Huskies, all but two in the second half.
"I don't think the team was aware of anything and we didn't make them aware," said Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, wo refused to comment on the allegations. "It certainly wasn't a factor in the game."
El-Amin denied the allegations to the newspaper Wednesday and did the same after the game.
"There was no wrongdoing on my part," he said. "I've spoken to the people who need to be spoken to and the situation should be handled."
El-Amin was 1-for-7 from the field in the first half and finished 9-for-24.
"I am not taking anything away from Iowa but if they sat down it wouldn't have made a difference," Calhoun said. "The better team won tonight and if we play like this tomorrow night we could be in for a real hurting. I don't expect us to."
Connecticut beat Iowa 78-68 in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament last year. The Huskies went on to win three more games and the national title, while Iowa didn't play again until Thursday night.
The Hawkeyes' start had a sellout crowd of 19,548 silent. The noise level picked up along with the Huskies' defense and shooting in the second half, but Iowa wouldn't fold.
Albert Mouring's 3-pointer with 7:06 to play gave Connecticut a 55-53 led, but sophomore Kyle Galloway, who missed last season with a back injury, hit a 3 with 6:33 left and Iowa didn't trail again.
"That was a real gut-check when they took the lead," Galloway said. "The coaches told us to keep playing defense and we would come back to win it."
El-Amin scored on a drive with 57 seconds left to get the Huskies within 67-65, but Jaacks hit one of two free throws with 32 seconds left. After two missed 3s by Connecticut, Ryan Luehrsmann made two free throws with three seconds to go. Kevin Freeman's 3-pointer with .5 seconds left only made it closer.
"I have only been with this team for one game and we've already got one special win under our belts together," Alford said.
It was the 22nd consecutive season-opening victory for Iowa and the second time in four years the defending national champion lost its opener. Kentucky lost to Clemson to open the 1996-97 season.
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