Iowa veterans make key plays late to bounce Wisconsin in Big Ten tournament

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Wisconsin had Iowa marching in place for the first half of its first postseason game of 2021.

That’s what the Badgers wanted to do. It’s the perfect way to overcome a gap in talent against a very familiar opponent.

The Hawkeyes showed some guile of their own in the second half, particularly in the final minutes, when a pair of veteran players took over and sent Wisconsin packing with a 62-57 win in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Iowa (21-7) defeated Wisconsin for a third time in three weeks, reached the tournament semifinals for the first time in 15 years, and set up a Saturday showdown with another bitter border rival.

The Hawkeyes will try to avenge a regular-season loss to Illinois (21-6) when they meet at 2:30 p.m. in a game to be broadcast by CBS.

“We’re not satisfied with the outcome the first time,” Iowa junior Joe Wieskamp said of that 80-75 loss to the Illini on Jan. 29. “We’ll be ready.”

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There was some question about whether Wieskamp would even play Friday, five days after he turned his right ankle awkwardly in the first half of Iowa’s previous win against Wisconsin. The Muscatine native spent the week in the training room, putting the ankle on ice and then doing the same to the Badgers.

Iowa junior Joe Wieskamp rejects a shot by Wisconsin's D'Mitrick Trice with 20 seconds remaining Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It was the Hawkeyes' 10th block of the game, and the one that resonated the most. It helped seal a 62-57 Iowa victory in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.

It was Wieskamp who provided the two biggest baskets of the game, breaking a 52-52 tie with three minutes remaining and giving Iowa the lead for good. He sealed Wisconsin defender D’Mitrik Trice for his first layup, then sprinted out in transition for the next.

Wieskamp was 0-for-4 from the 3-point arc. But he found a way to get 10 points, with seven rebounds, in 35 gutty minutes of play.

“I was really impressed with him,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.

“I was really concerned as to whether or not I wanted to play him at all. But he was cleared to play. He wanted to play. I was prepared to pull him if I didn’t think he looked right. I didn’t see anything at all in his performance that looked like he was a step slow, like he was favoring anything. He was out there competing and having fun.”

Trying to play again 16 hours later will be a bigger test for Wieskamp’s ankle.

After he provided the Hawkeyes with a four-point cushion Friday, it was senior point guard Jordan Bohannon’s turn to make sure that held up. Bohannon drove for a basket and then made all four of his free throws, accounting for Iowa’s final six points. He had 11 for the game.

The Hawkeyes trailed 32-26 at halftime, struggling to maintain a rhythm in a game Wisconsin wanted to make inelegant. Iowa missed all 10 3-pointers in the first half. More alarming, the Hawkeyes had more turnovers (8) than assists (6).

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“They just want to slow the pace down. We played at their tempo in the first half,” Bohannon said. “Finally, in the second half, we said: ‘We’re going to play our game.’ That’s exactly what we did.”

Iowa had 12 assists and no turnovers in the second half, punishing Wisconsin on the interior when its long-range shots kept rattling out. Bohannon made one second-half 3-pointer; CJ Fredrick had the other for the Hawkeyes.

The Hawkeyes won in a way that is unconventional for them. They grabbed nine offensive rebounds in the second half, turning those into six points. They blocked 10 Badger shot attempts, a program record in a Big Ten tournament game. Wisconsin center Micah Potter was the victim of six of them.

But it was Wieskamp who delivered the block that punctuated Iowa’s eighth win in nine games. After earlier posting up Trice, Wieskamp posterized him with 20 seconds remaining, swatting a soft layup attempt all the way off the court and then screaming his approval.

“I don’t think I was moving great in the first half defensively. I let guys get a couple of shots off on me,” Wieskamp said. “I really tried to pick it up in the second half, guard, do my best to defend. My offense wasn’t coming as easily, so I was trying to just impact the game in different ways. I saw (Trice) get some separation, so I just came over on help side.”

Wisconsin’s last lead was at 48-46. The Badgers missed their next seven shots, three of which were blocked by a Hawkeye team that had them scouted well. Two other possessions ended in turnovers.

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Iowa won a game in which it made just 2 of 20 3-pointers. It won because all-American center Luka Garza scored 18 first-half points (24 for the game) to keep things manageable while the rest of the team stumbled through the first half. It won by outscoring Wisconsin 38-20 in the paint.

It wasn’t a clean game. But it was a clean sweep.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.