By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
It was the game of the year — won by the team of the year in Iowa sports.
Iowa had the ball and a 3-point lead with less than a minute left of a thrilling matchup with the rival Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum on Dec. 13. But Iowa State, helped immensely by a raucous home crowd, rallied to beat the Hawkeyes and highlight a fantastic 2013 for Fred Hoiberg’s surging program.
The Cyclones made back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time in 12 years in March, where they blasted Notre Dame before Ohio State’s Aaron Craft broke their hearts with a buzzer-beating 3. The Cyclones soon reloaded behind transfers DeAndre Kane and Dustin Hogue and became the last unbeaten team in the Big 12 to start this season.
Iowa State will enter 2014 as a legitimate contender for the conference title and a deep run in March.
The Cyclones certainly weren’t the only team to make news in Iowa this year, though. Here are some of the other top stories in Iowa sports in 2013.
2. HAWKEYE REVIVAL: After finishing 4-8 with six straight Big Ten losses in 2012, most thought Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes were due for a .500 season at best. But after some early stumbles in league play, Iowa reeled off three straight wins — capped by a 38-17 waxing of Nebraska on the road — to finish the regular season at 8-4 and 5-3 in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes defense blossomed into one of the best in the country, sophomore Jake Rudock had a promising debut season and Iowa wound up with a berth in the Outback Bowl against LSU. Next year could be even better for the Hawkeyes, who return a majority of their starters and appear to have a much more manageable schedule in 2014.
3. HOOPS TOO: Iowa’s basketball team was also on a major upswing in 2013. Though the Hawkeyes narrowly missed the NCAA tournament, they made a run to the finals of the NIT and started this season at 11-2, earning a spot in the Top 25. Iowa is one of the deepest teams in the country and looks ready to compete for a Big Ten title in the weeks ahead.
4. CYCLONES STUMBLE: Things weren’t nearly so rosy for coach Paul Rhoads and the scuffling Cyclones. Iowa State lost its season opener to Northern Iowa and things only got worse from there. The Cyclones lost nine of their first 10 games as quarterback Sam Richardson struggled through injuries and their young defense got lit up by a number of high-powered Big 12 offenses. Though Iowa State closed a dreadful season with a pair of wins, offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham was fired less than 24 hours after the final game of the year. The Cyclones have already signed a number of junior college recruits in an effort to fill immediate holes, and they’re hoping that Grant Rohach can solidify their quarterback situation.
5. WRESTLING’S OLYMPIC FIGHT: Perhaps nowhere in the United States was the International Olympic Committee’s recommendation that wrestling be dropped from the Olympic program felt more than in Iowa. A state with a long and illustrious history of supporting the sport was thrust into the fight to preserve its future — starting with the NCAA Championships in March. Sellout crowds in Des Moines helped start the push to save Olympic wrestling, which survived two rounds of IOC voting and was reinstated in September.
6. STEWART CRASHES IN IOWA: One of the biggest NASCAR stories of the year originated in Oskaloosa. Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart broke his leg and missed the rest of the season after flipping his sprint car at the Southern Iowa Speedway in early August, again raising questions about safety in the sport. Stewart remains optimistic he’ll be ready to return for the Dayton 500 in late February.
7. SPEEDWAY SOLD: The NASCAR story most pertinent to Iowans broke just before Thanksgiving, when it was announced that NASCAR had purchased the Iowa Speedway in a near-unprecedented move. NASCAR called the purchase a “strategic play” — but it also said it has no plans to bring the top-tier Sprint Cup Series to Newton in the near future.
8. MR. 138 GOES FOR 180 IN TWO GAMES: Grinnell’s Jack Taylor made headlines when he set the NCAA scoring record with a staggering 138 points in late 2012. Taylor missed the second half of last season with a broken wrist, but he let the world know he was healthy at the onset of 2013. Taylor opened the season with a 71-point effort, which he followed up by scoring 109 points — third-most in NCAA history — in a 173-123 win over Crossroads on Nov. 18. Taylor is averaging a national-best 44.6 points a game, over 14 more than the player in second, as the Pioneers won seven of their first eight games.
9. DRAKE FIRES PHELPS: The Bulldogs gave Mark Phelps five years to try to replicate the success Keno Davis had in just one season in Des Moines. But after just 77 wins and 86 losses, Drake fired Phelps after last season and replaced him with Ray Giacoletti. The Bulldogs have taken to the change thus far, winning seven of their first 10 games.
10. IOWA, IOWA STATE MAKE NCAA TOURNAMENT YET AGAIN: The women’s basketball teams at Iowa and Iowa State make the NCAAs so often that it’s easy to forget how consistently strong they really are. The Hawkeyes made it to the second round in March, their sixth consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, and the Cyclones also won an NCAA game in their seventh straight tournament trip. Both Iowa and Iowa State will finish 2013 in the Top 25 and in great shape for yet another NCAA bid.