No. 7 Hawkeyes turn to veterans to hold off rally by No. 17 Gophers in rematch
IOWA CITY, Ia. — If Iowa basketball fans sensed any déjà vu Sunday while Minnesota chiseled 13 points out of a large Hawkeye lead, that was certainly not the view of coach Fran McCaffery and his players.
McCaffery called a timeout when things started heading south and calmly pointed out to his seventh-ranked Hawkeyes that they were still in control. The Gophers made a run. But no one was outrunning Iowa on this day.
“We got good shots. They hit some tough shots. So it’s not like we had five straight breakdowns to upset anybody,” McCaffery said of that huddle with 5 minutes and 30 seconds remaining at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and Iowa’s lead suddenly down to five points. “It was: ‘Stay the course. Remain confident. Move the ball. We’ll get a good shot. Go down. Be active defensively. Give them one contested shot.’ You don’t have to overthink it there.
“I trust my guys. We have a veteran group.”
There was no repeat of the meltdown in Minnesota that led to Iowa’s lone Big Ten Conference loss this season. Instead, Luka Garza immediately made two big baskets. Jordan Bohannon drained a pair of free throws. Jack Nunge’s lone field goal of the game was a jumpshot from the left baseline that settled comfortably inside the rim. Joe Wieskamp pulled up for one jumpshot inside the 3-point arc, and another one from beyond it.
That’s four Hawkeye players with at least three years of experience here, all doing their part to ensure that they didn’t experience another blown lead against the Gophers. Iowa regained control and won 86-71, pushing its record to 11-2 overall and 5-1 in league play. The Hawkeyes have won four consecutive games since that 102-95 overtime stunner at Minnesota on Christmas Day, when a seven-point lead evaporated in the final minute of regulation.
“They made a good run in the second half,” Wieskamp said after scoring 20 points on 7 of 9 shooting. “But I think we continued to just keep outrunning them.”
No Hawkeye ran harder than Garza, who made it a point to beat Minnesota center Liam Robbins downcourt throughout his 34 minutes, finishing with 33 points and a jersey soaked through with sweat. Bohannon, a fifth-year senior point guard, was usually the one feeding Garza down low, ending up with a career-high 14 assists.
Iowa made 17 of 24 shots in the second half, a 70.8% success rate that made it impossible for No. 17 Minnesota (10-4, 3-4) to come all the way back. The Gophers led for a mere 19 seconds on Sunday.
“We weren’t going to let it happen again,” Garza said of last month’s loss to Minnesota. “We just needed to lock in, get a couple of buckets and get back in transition.”
Wieskamp makes point to McCaffery with 'tremendous' practice session
Wieskamp scored 14 points in 38 minutes in the first meeting with Minnesota, then watched as his playing time and productivity dwindled in the three wins that followed. He scored 24 points in those games, on 8 of 23 shooting. He was benched for most of the first half in Thursday’s 89-67 win at Maryland, finishing with season-lows in points (six) and minutes (17).
When Iowa gathered Saturday morning, Wieskamp had a message to deliver to his head coach and his teammates.
“I was frustrated a little bit,” Wieskamp said. “So I just kind of knew that I had to earn a little bit of respect back and had to go prove that in practice. So I was extremely aggressive, up in people’s space in practice. Just try to set the tone and let him (McCaffery) know what I’m capable of and why I need to be on the floor.”
McCaffery noticed. How could he not? He was so impressed by Wieskamp’s practice that he used one of his favorite adjectives — “tremendous” — twice when describing it to reporters after Sunday’s game.
“I told him, ‘That’s how you play. You play that way at both ends, good things are going to happen,’” McCaffery said.
“If he did make a mistake (Sunday), he played through it and just kept fighting. I thought his physicality at both ends was really good.”
Wieskamp was feeling so confident Sunday that on one sequence he dribbled toward the free-throw line and froze the 7-foot Robbins in his tracks before stopping to swish a shot over his outstretched arms.
A free throw with 17:48 left in the game marked Wieskamp’s 1,000th career point as a Hawkeye, only the 50th player who can say that. Wieskamp, a junior from Muscatine, said little else about it when asked.
“It’s a special accomplishment for me, but I’ve just got to keep moving forward,” he concluded.
As for Wieskamp’s recent slump, he chalked that up to forcing too many tough shots. He responded by watching film of how he was being defended and figuring out a better approach to taking advantage of the frequent double-teams Garza sees.
“Just getting back to taking the right shot, making the right basketball play,” Wieskamp said. “And, if you’re coming off a screen, find the open guy instead of trying to force something up.”
Hawkeyes don't let Gophers get loose at 3-point arc this time
Wieskamp played 36 minutes Sunday, the same as Bohannon. They had 13 defensive rebounds between them and had a hand in Iowa’s much better defensive performance at the 3-point arc.
The Gophers made 17 of 43 3-pointers in their win over Iowa. On Sunday, they made just 10 of 34. How extreme was the contrast? Iowa made 9 of 14 shots from the arc, meaning they took 20 fewer of them and ended up with nearly as many points from long-range.
“Our loss up there on Christmas night definitely has been in the back of our minds ever since that happened,” Wieskamp said. “They made a couple, but as you can see, for the most part, I think we did a good job of being up in their space and making them make tough, contested shots.”
Gophers forward Brandon Johnson was 8-for-9 from the 3-point arc in the first meeting. On Sunday, he attempted just one. It was off-target.
Iowa has held every opponent to 75 points or less since that debacle in Minnesota. McCaffery said it’s a result of better communication, meaning fewer breakdowns that wind up with wide-open looks for opposing shooters.
“I just think we’re, as a veteran club, staying together and talking things out and really working as a unit,” he said.
Iowa power forwards quiet offensively, but Nunge controls defensive glass
Sunday's game was unusual for Iowa's trio of power forwards. Connor McCaffery, the starter, was hampered by foul trouble and ended up with only three points in 19 minutes. Freshman Keegan Murray, who has been a sparkplug off the bench all season, also quickly picked up a pair of fouls and was held scoreless for only the second time all season.
Nunge scored three points, including the huge basket late in the game. But Iowa’s tallest player, at 6-foot-11 (which puts him a hair above Garza), led the team with 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes on the court. The Hawkeyes outrebounded the Gophers 41-36 as a result.
Nunge had nine defensive rebounds, including four in the final 4 minutes while the Hawkeyes were rebuilding their lead.
Garza went out of his way to point out how vital that was.
“Jack Nunge was terrific down the stretch, getting all those rebounds,” Garza said of his friend. “He helped our team win this game with some of the biggest plays.”
Iowa next hosts Michigan State at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.