Anatomy of a comeback: Four things Iowa did to vanquish Cincinnati

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

COLUMBUS, Ohio — How do you overcome a 13-point deficit in an NCAA Tournament game?

Iowa had the perfect blueprint in Friday’s 79-72 victory over seventh-seeded Cincinnati.

  • Use a full-court press designed to force the Bearcats to play at an uncomfortable tempo.
  • Establish your center lower in the post where he can be a bigger threat and open driving lanes for your wing players.
  • Rotate a pair of zone defenses, then commit to better rebounding when you force missed shots.
  • Find some bench players who can provide a lift.

Trailing 18-5 just 8 minutes into an opening-round game at Nationwide Arena, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery used a timeout to remind his Hawkeyes, who seemed rattled, that there were 32 minutes left in the contest. Then he had them use a 1-2-2 press and retreat into either a 3-2 or 2-3 zone depending on how many strong perimeter shooters Cincinnati had on the court.

More from Iowa's upset of Cincinnati:

The advantage kept swinging the Hawkeyes’ way from that point on.

“That gave them a few problems, and we were able to come out and just become more aggressive that way,” Iowa forward Nicholas Baer said of the press. “And that really got us going.”

A closer look at the adjustments Iowa made to advance to Sunday’s game against second-seeded Tennessee:

Mar 22, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes guard Joe Wieskamp (10) shoots the ball over Cincinnati Bearcats guard Justin Jenifer (3) in the second half in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Wieskamp: 'We were trying to speed them up and I think it worked'

Cincinnati plays at one of the slowest tempos in college basketball, 334th out of 353 teams. The Bearcats are not used to being pressed.

Iowa center Ryan Kriener said the Hawkeyes didn’t practice pressing much leading into the game, but they’ve been using one off and on all season. When you’re down by 13, it’s time to mix things up.

Cincinnati committed only seven turnovers. But it was obvious the Bearcats were forcing up attempts earlier in the shot clock than is their norm. They are not a particularly good shooting team. They made only 6-of-27 3-pointers.

Advantage Iowa.

“I don’t think they handled that too much all season long. We were trying to speed them up and I think it worked,” Iowa forward Joe Wieskamp said after scoring 19 points in his first NCAA Tournament game. “Sometimes, they would break it, hit the middle for a little jump shot. A lot of times they missed that. I think that’s because they were speeding up.”

More possessions gave Iowa more chances to chip away at the lead. By halftime, they trailed just 36-31.


Garza: 'Coach wanted me to get deeper position'

Of course, you need to score on those possessions for it to matter. Isaiah Moss had Iowa’s first five points. No one else scored in the opening 8 minutes. That had to change in a hurry.

Luka Garza ended up with 20 points, including the first two out of the timeout that changed everything. That cut the deficit to 18-7. Wieskamp followed with a 3-pointer. Garza scored in the post again. The comeback was launched.

“Coach wanted me to get deeper position. I was pushed out of my spot a couple of times early in the game and I was catching it like 17 feet out. That’s really easy for the guards when I take a dribble to come and poke me,” Garza said.

From there: “The (Iowa) guards had to fend off the pressure to be able to get inside. Our guards were able to get downhill and Joe started driving to the basket and getting it rolling.”

Baer: 'It's just really about making sure they wouldn't keep getting second shots'

The Hawkeyes were getting obliterated on the boards in the first half. That’s why the Bearcats were able to maintain a lead. Nine offensive rebounds led to 11 second-chance points. Iowa had trouble keeping a hyper-aggressive Cincinnati team off the glass when playing its zone.

“We knew that we would play good enough defense that they would miss,” Baer said. “It’s just really about making sure they wouldn’t keep getting second shots.”

Cincinnati grabbed only three offensive rebounds in the second half. Garza, Wieskamp and Tyler Cook had five defensive boards. Even Jordan Bohannon, the team’s 6-foot-1 point guard, matched that total. It was a team effort.

“I think we just did a lot better job tagging those guys, boxing them out and trying to fend them off,” Garza said. “It’s really hard with those guys. They’re crashing from the NBA line. Their wings are just racing in. They’re running at it with reckless abandon. We knew if we could get a couple of those rebounds, we could get out and run because they were crashing so many guys to the glass.”

Rebounding out of a zone can be tricky, Kriener said. It requires more thinking and less reacting.

“You kind of have to know who you’re rebounding against. Because if you have a big guy down low, sometimes you have to seal him under so he can’t get it. Or if you have a running rebounder, sometimes you have to go check the high post,” Kriener said.

“You have to be a lot smarter with it, and you don’t have your own guy right in front of you.”

Iowa scored 48 points on 65 percent shooting in the second half. The rebounding was the catalyst.

The Hawkeye bench bolsters the starters, and a first goal is met

The Hawkeyes got zero points from any bench players in the first half. That can be overcome, but why put so much of the burden on the starters? Baer is too talented to go scoreless. He put up 10 points in the second half, including a pair of timely 3-pointers and a late dunk that served as an exclamation point (two, actually).

“I was open in my shots and I’m going to shoot it with confidence,” Baer said.

Kriener was forced into play 33 seconds into the second half when starting power forward Cook picked up a third foul.

He immediately sank a short jump shot. He followed with a difficult post move.

Backup point guard Connor McCaffery later buried a 3-pointer that gave the Hawkeyes a 53-52 lead, only their second of the game.

Seventeen points from the bench in the second half for Iowa. The Bearcats had 10 all game.

Another advantage on a day the Hawkeyes created enough of them to pull out a win.

“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to get here,” Wieskamp said. “But once you get here, you continue to set new goals, and our first goal was to win our first game. We accomplished that.

“So obviously our next goal is to win the next one.”

The Hawkeyes bought themselves at least two more days because they played a smarter basketball game than their opponent Friday.