Tyler Cook, coming off his first scoreless game, looks to lead Hawkeyes out of abyss

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

LINCOLN, Neb. — The question caught Tyler Cook by surprise Thursday, eliciting a quick chuckle.

Did Iowa’s leading scorer ever think he’d be held without a point?

The unthinkable happened in the Hawkeyes’ 65-45 loss to Wisconsin. For the first time in 88 career games, Cook put up a zero in the most important statistical category.

“If we won the game and I didn’t score, I wouldn’t really care, honestly. My focus is trying to make sure that we don’t lose a game like that again,” the junior forward said. “Obviously, I want to score the ball. I can score the ball. I feel like if I’m put in good situations, I can do that with the best of them.”

UW forward Ethan Happ battles Iowa's Tyler Cook for a rebound during the second half.

Cook had scored at least six points in each game this season. He averages 15.3 to pace the team and has been Iowa’s leading scorer in 41 of his 88 career contests.

On Thursday, Cook went 0-for-6 from the field. More alarmingly, he failed to get to the free-throw line for only the sixth time in his career. Three of those have occurred in the Hawkeyes’ last five games. That indicates a hesitancy to attack the basket, which is Cook’s biggest strength.

This is a trend he will look to change when Iowa (21-9, 10-9 Big Ten Conference) closes the regular season at 1 p.m. Sunday at Nebraska (15-15, 5-14). The Cornhuskers have lost 11 of their last 13 games. BTN has the telecast.

“It’s my job to make sure that this team stays together and we keep playing the best that we can play whether I score 30 or 0,” Cook said after the Hawkeyes dropped a third consecutive game. “Obviously, I need to look to be more effective on that end. I need my teammates to help me out more, too.”

Iowa’s offensive woes extended far beyond Cook on Thursday. It was the worst offensive showing of the season for a team that is at its best when it makes an effort to get to the free-throw line. Cook has been there 175 times this season — 73 more than any other Hawkeye. At 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, he is the team’s biggest mismatch.

Iowa defeated Nebraska 93-84 on Jan. 6 in Iowa City. Cook was 8-for-9 from the line that day. The Hawkeyes made 29 of 32 in all.

That’s one aspect of Sunday’s game that will obviously change. You can bet Iowa will make a more concerted effort to pass or drive the ball into the lane.

“We had some good game plan (Thursday) to get it to him,” Iowa assistant coach Kirk Speraw said of Cook. “We got it to him some; we missed him a couple of times. He’s got to go get it, too. He’ll bounce back.”

Speraw coached the Hawkeyes at Wisconsin as head coach Fran McCaffery completed his two-game suspension for directing profane comments at an official after a Feb. 26 loss at Ohio State. McCaffery will be back Sunday, which should give his team an emotional lift.

The Hawkeyes would also benefit from seeing some shots fall. The team is in a collective slump and players appear to be reluctant to shoot the ball as a result.

“Making shots makes everything easier both on the offensive and defensive end. I think we’re all taking good shots. I think we’re doing a decent job of getting each other open,” Cook said. “Once we start getting more out of our transition game, I think that will help us out a lot, too. We’ve got a team full of guys that can really shoot the ball, that are really gifted.”

Iowa averages 78.6 points per game. Cook consumes the biggest chunk of that. He’s the leader of the team, and this is his chance to prove it. It’s one reeling team against another. The Hawkeyes desperately want to avoid carrying a four-game losing streak into the Big Ten Tournament next week in Chicago.

“When you see the ball go in, it changes your mindset. I’m still confident in the guys we have on this team, our abilities,” Cook said.

“Our guys are healthy. We’ve got another opportunity to come back and kind of redeem ourselves.”