Leistikow's 6 thoughts off Iowa's 80-75 loss at Illinois: Cold shooting, overturned goaltending call loom large
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In a grudge-match sense, this one was relatively quiet. No player scuffles, no technical fouls.
But on the court, this matchup of high-powered offenses lived up to the massive pregame hype. There were 22 lead changes in a game that deserved to have a packed house at the State Farm Center.
And when No. 7 Iowa and No. 22 Illinois had finished battling for 40 entertaining minutes, it was the Fighting Illini who emerged with an 80-75 win.
The Hawkeyes had their chances to grab a crucial road victory in a competitive Big Ten Conference race, but they went cold after Luka Garza's dunk tied the score at 69-all with 5:24 to go. They missed eight of their final 10 shots and failed to score on nine of their final 11 possessions. It's hard to win against one of the most dynamic lineups in the country with stats like that.
“We’re two great teams. They’re a really, really good team," said Garza, the all-American who was saddled with foul trouble and finished with 19 points in 28 minutes. "They were better tonight. We had stretches where we could have won this game. We know that. We reflect on that, and that's unfortunate, because we only get to see them once in the regular season.
"It just hurts when you have an effort like that and can't come out with the win."
The game was great, but not without controversy.
A goaltending call against Illinois' Kofi Cockburn that was overturned by officials with 1:06 to go changed the complexion of what would become a tense final 66 seconds.
You saw it; the basketball-watching nation saw it. Down four on a key possession, Iowa's Joe Wieskamp had his shot rejected near the hoop. He caught the ball in mid-air and easily laid the ball in. Officials ruled the first shot was good via goaltending, but then went to the scorer's table to review the call.
After a long delay, the determined (correctly) that goaltending shouldn't have been called. But the rotten part of the deal for Iowa is that the play stopped with that call, and Wieskamp's follow-up (in the flow of the game) was also disallowed.
“Even if it is a block, I got the rebound and put it right back in," Wieskamp said. "I don’t even know if the ref blew the whistle or not. But either way, it’s on them. That should’ve been two points, either on the first one or the second one. We should’ve been down two with a minute left."
National college basketball analyst Seth Davis agreed that even though the rule was officiated properly, it was extremely unfair to Iowa in that situation.
"Iowa legit got a bucket but had it taken away," Davis tweeted. "Not right."
Had the original call stood, Iowa would've been down 76-74. Instead, it was 76-72. Iowa turned the ball over on the ensuing possession. It did force a turnover on the other end with 33 seconds left. But again, down two vs. down four is a huge difference in that spot. If Iowa was down two, it might play for a tying or winning shot. Instead, Wieskamp offered a rushed 3 that missed.
Tough break. And continued cold shooting.
"If we’re down two with 30 seconds left, there are so many different options you can run," Wieskamp said. "So yeah, obviously very frustrating. But you can’t do anything about it."
After two Trent Frazier free throws, the Hawkeyes (12-4 overall, 6-3 Big Ten) did slice the deficit to 78-75 on Jordan Bohannon's 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds left. Then the Hawkeyes got another stop they needed; forcing a five-second call on Illinois' inbounds attempt. That allowed Fran McCaffery time to draw up a play for Bohannon. Players said afterward it was the shot they wanted, but Bohannon's right-wing 3 misfired with 5 seconds to play.
Cockburn was fouled on the rebound. He missed the one-and-one free throw, but scrambled to get the offensive rebound after the ball glanced off Jack Nunge's fingertips. Credit to him for good hustle to get an important loose ball.
Cockburn, a 56% foul shooter, then converted two free throws with 2.7 seconds left to wrap up the win for Illinois (11-5, 7-3).
Wieskamp was hot again, as he often is against Illinois.
Wieskamp once went 8-for-8 against the Illini, a 24-point barrage his freshman year when the Hawkeyes won handily at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
On Friday, the junior from just across the river in Muscatine was Iowa's best player on the court. The 6-foot-6 wing buried five of the first six 3-pointers he attempted — the last one giving Iowa a 72-71 lead with 2:42 remaining.
What made Wieskamp's game more impressive was that it often came with Illini star Ayo Dosunmu guarding him. Wieskamp finished with 19 points, tying Garza for the team high.
“I just tried to leave it all on the floor," Wieskamp said. "I tried to play as hard as I can, knowing CJ (Fredrick) would be out. He’s a big piece for us. I knew I really had to step up my game, and I tried to do that. But I know there are still some improvements I need to make.”
The Fredrick issue continues to linger, and it's unsettling.
Fredrick, a starting guard who shoots 50% from 3-point land, missed the game because of a lower-leg injury that's been lingering since a Jan. 17 win at Northwestern. Iowa has yet to win any of the three halves he's missed, both in losses, since exiting at halftime of the Jan. 21 home loss to Indiana.
Afterward, McCaffery continued to be vague about Fredrick's status and hasn't revealed any specifics about the injury. He missed six games last year with various lower-body injuries, including a stress reaction in his foot. He also had offseason foot surgery. The redshirt sophomore does such a good job spacing the floor, playing defense and delivering clutch shots that Iowa sorely misses him even on nights like Friday when the bench played pretty well.
"The truth is, I do not have an answer. It’s not like I’m trying to hide anything," McCaffery said. "He’s literally day-to-day. The last thing we want to do and risk making it worse, and now he can’t play the next four weeks or something like that. We’re trying to be prudent with how we utilize him.
“He’s getting treatment and rehab. They’re on top of it. He’s a tough kid. He’ll be back as soon as he can.”
Could Fredrick have given 10 or 12 minutes Friday night? Maybe. But McCaffery and Iowa's medical team is doing the right thing by playing the long game. For this team to achieve its primary dream — making a run in March — it needs Fredrick fully available. Maybe by resting him in this big game, it helps that cause.
Keegan Murray got his first career start in Fredrick's place and played well. He scored eight points and grabbed a team-best eight rebounds while playing 31:32. Connor McCaffery also scored a season-high 11 points and dished out five assists. Freshman Tony Perkins also contributed in some surprising second half minutes (two points, three rebounds, two assists in 6:51).
That help was needed Friday, but Iowa still missed Fredrick a lot.
Iowa was mostly helpless to stop Dosunmu, but it fared much better against Cockburn.
Dosunmu, the smooth guard from Chicago, had his way with Iowa’s defense no matter who was guarding him or what zone McCaffery called. He sliced through the Hawkeyes for 25 points, including 19 in the first half.
But (really) big man Kofi Cockburn found points and rebounds tougher to come by than usual. The nation’s leader with 11 double-doubles (including six in a row coming into this game) was held to one point and two rebounds in the first half by a team effort from Garza, Nunge and Murray. Nunge was especially effective in the second half while Garza sat for more than 7 minutes (from the 17:30 mark to the 10:20 mark) after picking up his third foul. Nunge finished with four blocked shots in just 14:10 of court time.
Cockburn finished with a respectable final line: nine points and 10 rebounds. But Iowa did a pretty good job against him. Dosunmu, on the other hand, was sensational for the Illini.
"I thought our transition defense and our awareness in the second half was better," Fran McCaffery noted, "particularly as it pertains to (Dosunmu).”
A three-game week looms. How will Iowa respond?
The Hawkeyes return home for a pair of home games against opponents they haven't seen this season — Tuesday vs. Michigan State, Thursday vs. Ohio State. That's a three-day opportunity to make up some ground on first-place Michigan (8-1 Big Ten) in the conference standings. Then, there's a Super Bowl Sunday revenge trip at Indiana.
The Hawkeyes can wash this bad taste out of their mouths with a 3-0 week. It won't be easy, but they'll be plenty motivated.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.