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Hawkeye Basketball Exhibition Games vs USSR (1978-1986)

Hawkeye Basketball Exhibition Games vs USSR (1978-1986)

10/24/2023 - Starting in 1958, the Soviet Union national team traveled to the US to play exhibition games. They had just started competing in the Olympics in 1952 and wanted to become more competitive. The US had won every Olympic gold medal between 1936 and 1968, but lost a controversial game against USSR in 1972 to end the streak. You can read more about the history of USSR exhibition games in the US from this Sports Illustrated article in 1976.

The Soviets (abbreviated USSR, with jerseys that read CCCP) first came to Iowa City in 1978, and returned again in 1979, 1982 and 1986. Each year, they would play a series of exhibition games across the country against different college teams at different levels of skill.

Here is a summary of those 4 games, with USSR winning 3 times, and Iowa winning once.

November 17, 1978: Iowa 76, USSR 64

In the first exhibition game, the game was played under Olympic basketball rules (30-second shot clock). The Hawks picked up the pace and took a lead five minutes into the game, and never gave it up. The game was tied at 15 with 11 minutes to go in the first half, and the Hawks took a 39-34 halftime lead in front of 12,300 fans. USSR closed the gap to 43-41 early in the 2nd half, but the Hawks decided to pull away. They used the fast break to their advantage, wearing out the Soviets, preventing it from being too physical of a game, which would have favored USSR. Iowa had 10 turnovers, but forced 27 turnovers, which was a key to winning the exhibition game.

Iowa was led by Ronnie Lester, who scored 24 points to lead all scorers. It was not Lester's first game against the Soviets. He was part of a United States team that lost to the Soviets in Moscow during the Gagarian Cup tournament held over the summer, so he was able to get some revenge. Kevin Boyle added 15 points, and Vince Brookins grabbed 7 rebounds.

Vladimir Tkachenko led USSR with 13 points and 7 rebounds. The Soviets were able to outrebound Iowa, 52-39. The USSR team was very experienced, as many of the players had won the gold medal in the 1972 Olympics in Germany.

You can also read the Daily Iowan article about the game

See the results from Iowa's 1978-1979 Men's Basketball Season >>>

November 14, 1979: USSR 90, Iowa 66

In the second exhibition between Iowa and USSR in front of 13,365 fans, it was not very close matchup. A much improved USSR team showed up compared to the previous year. The teams traded baskets in the first half, with the score tied 20-20, but USSR went on a run, and took a 38-28 lead into halftime. They continued to pull away in the 2nd half, leading by 27 points with only six minutes remaining. The strategy to shut down Ronnie Lester paid off, since he burned them for 24 points in the previous contest. He was held to 10 points and 6 rebounds.

In his 2nd game against Iowa, Vladimir Tkachenko led all scorers with 21 points, including 13 points in the 2nd half. Standing 7'3" he had quite a height advantage. Sergei Belov and Alexandr Belostenni chipped in 16 and 14 points, respectively. The Soviets shot well from the field, 53% compared to Iowa's 40%. The Hawks were led by Kevin Boyle with 14 points and 9 rebounds. Mark Gannon added 12 points, and Steve Waite grabbed 8 rebounds and scored 10 points.

You can also read the Daily Iowan article about the game

See the results from Iowa's 1979-1980 Men's Basketball Season >>>

November 22, 1982: USSR 78, Iowa 66

The third contest was held again at the Field House, and the game was played under international rules, which seemed to allow for more physicality. The Hawks shot poorly, only 35% on the night, compared to the USSR's 46%. Greg Stokes started strong for the Hawks, scoring 10 of the first 14 points, including some impressive dunks. He ended with 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Hawks in scoring and rebounding. Bob Hansen and Michael Payne both scored 16 points. Iowa fell behind in the first half, and trailed 42-34 at halftime. They could not close the gap in the 2nd half, and lost by 12.

The Soviets were led by future NBA star Arvydas Sabonis, who was only 18 years old, but already 7'2" tall, and scored 14 points. Voldemaras Khomlchus led all scorers with 26 points.

Here is a video of some plays from the 1982 exhibition. You can also read the Daily Iowan article about the game

See the results from Iowa's 1982-1983 Men's Basketball Season >>>

November 16, 1986: USSR 95, Iowa 93

In this final exhibition matchup between the two teams, the game was played under NCAA rules for the first time and played at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in front of 15,450 fans. The difference in the game was 3-point shooting. Iowa was 0-1 from outside the three point line, while USSR was 10 of 25, including eight in the first half. This helped them to a 50-43 halftime lead. Both teams ended up shooting over 50% from the field.

Iowa trailed by as much as 13 points in the game, and were down 92-85 with 3:51 remaining before mounting a comeback. The Soviets held on when they blocked a Roy Marble shot with 24 seconds left, and B.J. Armstrong missed a five-foot shot in the final seconds. Armstrong ended with 15 points.

Ed Horton led all scorers with 29 points and tied Iowa forward Brad Lohaus for the rebounding lead with 10. Lohaus had 18 points, and Kevin Gamble added 16 points.

Here is some clips from the game:

You can also read the Daily Iowan article about the game.

See the results from Iowa's 1986-1987 Men's Basketball Season >>>

Special thanks to Mindaugas Beinoras for inspiring me to do this research. He is putting together some history of USSR's games in the US, and has a few videos you can check out here:

Did you attend one of these exhibition games?





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Hawkeye Basketball Exhibition Games vs USSR (1978-1986) - Summary of Iowa football and basketball games