Steve Alford's return to Assembly Hall was filled with a little controversy off the court and a lot of drama on it tonight.
The Iowa men's basketball coach, a former Hoosier who led Indiana to a 1987 NCAA championship over Syracuse, almost coached his team to an upset of No. 11 Indiana, losing, 74-71, in front of a sellout crowd.
But in addition to a good game, many in the crowd were curious to see how Alford and his mentor, Indiana Coach Bob Knight, would react to one another. At game's start, things seemed to be settling down between the coaches, who had not spoken to one another in more than a year because of a supposed rift. Knight, who usually enters the court from the north side, sneaked in from the visiting team's hallway and stopped for a brief hug with Alford and his father, Sam, an Iowa assistant coach.
"I thought that showed a lot of class," Alford said of Knight's entrance. "That really broke the ice and made things a little more comfortable, for both of us."
But things weren't so amiable in Knight's postgame news conference when the subject of his relationship with his former star guard was raised.
"If Alford wants to sit down and talk to me instead of holding press conferences about [the situation], that's fine with me," Knight said. "Alford has never asked me to do anything that I haven't done."
After Knight had answered reporters' questions, he left the press room, his conference apparently over. Then, he unexpectedly stormed back into the room moments later and shouted his displeasure over the coverage of his relationship with Alford dating from Big Ten basketball media day in Chicago in October.
Knight said that too much had been made of him not speaking with Alford at the media day.
"Why didn't I talk to him at the Big Ten meeting? There were 10 other coaches there and I didn't get a chance to speak to seven of them. Six other guys besides him I didn't talk to."
Alford was similarly uncomfortable with the media attention given to the coaches' relationship.
"I thought for this particular game, there was way too much attention put on two coaches," Alford said. "I thought both teams competed hard and really wanted to win. It was good to see both Indiana and Iowa, the players, compete the way they did. I enjoyed watching them."
So did the fans.
The game came down to the final two seconds and everyone was on their feet with IU leading 74-71. Iowa forward Rob Griffin attempted a three-pointer, but the ball bounced off the rim and, once again, the victory went to Knight--something with which Alford is all too familiar.
Knight said this game wasn't any different than the others he has coached.
"I've coached 1,000 games," he said. "The only ones I remember that are different are some real heartbreaking losses. It was a game that wound up being a heavily contested game between two teams that played really hard."
And just like every other game, Knight walked to half court at the end of the contest. There, he met the visiting coach, shook his hand, said "good game" and walked away.