The number is still staggering, 32 seasons later.
“They made 21 3-pointers?” Wade Lookingbill said. “I knew they made a lot of them. Twenty-one? Wow.”
Cal-Riverside was the Grinch that Stole Christmas. It knocked off the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes, 110-92, to win the 1988 Chaminade Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Highlanders, an NCAA Division II program playing a ranked Division I team for the first time ever, made 21 of 36 3-pointers.
Iowa is again ranked No. 4 heading into a Big Ten contest with Minnesota on Christmas night at Williams Arena. It will be the first time the Hawkeyes have played a game on Christmas since that stunning upset in 1988.
That was not an inexperienced Iowa team. It was a team that finished 23-10 and lost to North Carolina State in double overtime in a second-round NCAA game. A team that featured seniors Roy Marble, B.J. Armstrong and Ed Horton. Marble and Armstong would be first-round NBA Draft picks. Armstrong won three NBA Championship rings as a point guard for the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.
Lookingbill was a 19-year-old freshman from Fort Dodge who was getting playing time, often inserted late in games by Coach Tom Davis because of his outstanding free-throw shooting. The 7-0 Hawkeyes were heavily favored to win the Chaminade Classic. California-Riverside had been a late addition to the field when New Mexico State dropped out two months earlier. Iowa started the tournament playing like a team that was living on their No. 4 ranking. The Hawkeyes trailed Eastern Illinois at halftime of their first-round matchup, 44-40. It was their first halftime deficit of the season.
Iowa took care of business by opening the second half with a 17-0 run and winning, 89-71. Another freshman, Ray Thompson, who was a perfect fit at the front of Dr. Tom’s full-court pressure defense because of his length, scored 20 points in the victory.
“We’re not as good as we’re ranked,” Davis said afterwards. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Iowa faced a much bigger challenge against St. Louis in the semifinals.The game was tied at halftime, the Hawkeyes raced off to an 11-point second-half lead and then the Billikens rallied. Iowa’s lead was 81-80 when Lookingbill was fouled with 13 seconds remaining and headed to the line for a one-and-one.
Marble approached him as he marched to the free-throw line.
“I thought he was going to offer some encouragement,” Lookingbill said. “But you know what he said? He said, “Next time, pass me the ball.”
Asked by reporters after the game what he was thinking as he prepared to shoot the free throws, Wade told them, “I thought about Christmas and the gifts I was going to get.” Lookingbill laughed when he was reminded of that this week.
But he made both clutch free throws, Armstrong picked off the ensuing inbounds pass and Iowa had moved on to the championship game. Armstrong finished with 26 points and Marble had 20. Cal-Riverside, with just nine scholarship players on the roster, hardly put the fear of God into the nation’s fourth-ranked team.
“After that game I remember thinking, “OK, we’ve got this now,’ ”Lookingbill admitted.
But the Highlanders knew the only way to stay with Iowa was to shoot from distance. So they shot. And they made them with alarming frequency. Cal-Riverside made nine of 20 3-pointers in taking a 50-46 halftime lead.
And then it got really crazy. It made 12 of 16 triples the second half, including the first seven attempts after intermission. The Highlanders outscored Iowa from behind the 3-point line, 63-12. And six different players made at least one.
“I just remember Coach Davis was very upset in the locker room after that game,” Lookingbill said. “Here we are, a team with two NBA Draft picks. He was not happy.”
The 21 3-pointers were an NCAA record at the time, and Cal-Riverside scored more points against Iowa than any non-conference team had since Cincinnati during the 1969-70 season (114).
“We’d never even tried 21 3-point shots in a game,” Cal-Riverside Coach John Masi said afterwards. “We knew we couldn’t match up with Iowa’s size inside, so we just had to hope our shots from outside would fall. It turned out to be a picture-perfect performance. We got hot at the right time.”
And it went down in history as a Christmas to forget for Iowa’s basketball program.