IOWA CITY, Ia. – Matt Gatens had just eclipsed the 30-point mark for the second straight game, this time against Wisconsin on Feb. 23.
Acoss the Carver-Hawkeye Arena aisle from me sat Glenn Vidnovic, a starter on Iowa’s undefeated 1969-70 Big Ten championship team. I asked Vidnovic if John Johnson, the leading scorer on that team, had ever put together back-to-back 30-point games. In Big Ten play.
“Oh, yea,” Vidnovic said. “All the time.”
Gatens’ four-game outburst – he averaged 26.5 points in a four-game stretch against Penn State, Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois – was impressive.
“All of a sudden, the light just went on for Matt,” Vidnovic said.
But what Johnson and that Ralph Miller-coached 1969-70 team did on offense was incredible. The Hawkeyes averaged 102.9 points in Big Ten play while going 14-0. That is still a league record. They reached the century mark in eight of 14 league games that season.
Johnson, a 6-foot-7 forward, averaged 27.9 points that season. Gatens’ back-to-back 30s? In Big Ten play, Johnson had back-to-back games of 34 against Michigan and 31 against Wisconsin; 33 against both Minnesota and Indiana; 38 against Ohio State and an Iowa-record 49 against Northwestern; and 37 against Ohio State and 32 against Northwestern.
“I’ve never seen anyone shoot like that,” Vidnovic said of Johnson. “He shot something like 60 percent that season. Unbelieveable.”
Johnson , a native of Milwaukee, Wis., who came to Iowa from a junior college, shot 56.9 percent from the field that season. He attempted 508 shots, 148 more than any other teammate.
Johnson, Fred Brown, Chad Calabria and Vidnovic all scored 20 points or more in the same game four times that season. Vidnovic scored 20 points or more on his own the last four games that season.
How did he do that with Johnson and Brown on the floor?
“Foul trouble,” Vidnovic said with a chuckle. “That’s about the way it was.”
In addition to Johnson’s 27.9 average, Calabria scored 19.1 a game, Brown 17.9 and Vidnovic 17.3. Johnson was the seventh player selected in the 1970 NBA Draft, by Cleveland. He played 12 NBA seasons. Brown was the sixth player selected, by Seattle, in the first round of the 1971 NBA Draft. He played 13 NBA seasons. Brown and Johnson were teammates on Seattle’s 1979 NBA World Championship team.
“Both NBA guys, that’s how you win,” Vidnovic said. “Especially with dummies like me and Chad as your third and fourth guys. It wasn’t bad.”
Gatens made 24 of 33 3-pointers in his four-game flurry. He was closely guarded on most of those shots. Vidnovic, who has known Matt since he was a little kid, was impressed.
“Some of that stuff that Matt made, my gosh,” Vidnovic said.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball