Iowa hoops analysis: Wieskamp has a Garza moment, winning with physicality, Baer shines

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

EVANSTON, Ill. — It was a year ago at this time that the Iowa men’s basketball traveled one state to the east and picked up a needed Big Ten Conference road victory, with a freshman emerging as the catalyst.

That was center Luka Garza. That was a 104-97 overtime win at Illinois on Jan. 11.

On Wednesday, it was small forward Joe Wieskamp’s turn to show that he will be a leader on this Hawkeye team for years to come, hoisting the Hawkeyes onto his back and carrying them to a 73-63 win at Northwestern. Wieskamp had 19 points and seven rebounds, including a 10-point outburst early in the second half that swung the pendulum back in Iowa’s direction for good.

Afterward, Garza said the comparison between the two moments was “100 percent accurate.”

Iowa guard Joe Wieskamp dunks against Northwestern during the first half Wednesday in Evanston, Illinois.

“It’s great to see. That’s kind of what we need from him,” Garza said of Wieskamp. “He’s one of those scorers that we kind of depend on. He got it going. Our whole mindset was to keep going to him. We started setting picks for him.”

Of course, last season that win at Illinois was the only one on the road in Big Ten play for Iowa. That game, in which Garza also netted 19 points, was a turning point for him personally but not for the team. It’s become a sore subject for the players.

“We all talked about how we had to have the ‘road warrior’ mentality,” Garza said of Wednesday’s approach. “We just had a really strong mindset. I just noticed the whole team, every dead ball, we were together. That’s how we have to be, especially on the road. We’re by ourselves out there.”

Wieskamp had been good this season, averaging 10.9 points entering Wednesday’s contest. Now Iowa (13-3, 2-3 Big Ten Conference) needs him to be as great as he was in the second half against Northwestern. This team will never make the NCAA Tournament without more Big Ten road wins. Everyone has now seen that Wieskamp has it in him to deliver in big moments, and there are plenty more ahead. For the Hawkeyes and their emerging star freshman.

Hawkeye physicality turns the tide, even without a key player

Iowa was playing without power forward Tyler Cook for the first time since Nov. 29, 2016. Cook, at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, is easily the team’s most formidable physical presence.

So it was interesting to hear Northwestern coach Chris Collins credit the Hawkeyes’ physicality as being the difference in the game. The Wildcats (10-6, 1-4) start seniors Vic Law and Dererk Pardon in their frontcourt, after all.

“Against really good players, if you get it real deep, it’s going to be tough. They’re either going to score or they’re going to get fouled,” Collins said after being outscored 30-28 in the paint and 21-12 at the free-throw line. “They did a really good job of attacking our paint in the second half and got us in a lot of foul trouble, which affected the game.”

Collins was talking primarily about Garza, who was relentless with his 6-11 frame Wednesday in only his second game back after an ankle injury. Garza scored 16 points and made all 10 of his free throws in the second half. Pardon fouled out. Law and reserve post player Barret Benson were hampered by four fouls each.

“I just knew I had to be aggressive. Everyone knew we had to dig in and everyone had to step up,” Garza said of playing without Cook. “It’s a great thing when your best player’s out and your leader’s out, and you can go out there and get a big road win. That’s big for our team, big for our confidence going forward.”

Cook's status is murky, but new lineup is effective for one night

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery is always reluctant to discuss injuries to his players. He didn’t shine much light on what’s ailing Cook after the game either.

It was at Wednesday morning’s shootaround that McCaffery found out his leading scorer (17.3 points) and rebounder (8.3) was doubtful to play because of soreness in his knee.

“He just didn’t feel right (Wednesday),” McCaffery said. “I think it’s ongoing. It’s just a nagging thing.”

McCaffery inserted his lone senior, Nicholas Baer, into the starting lineup at power forward. He kept Ryan Kriener as the starting center, with Garza coming off the bench, as he did in Sunday’s win over Nebraska.

“The decision was, 'do we go with two bigs or do we slide Nicholas in there and bring one of our bigs off the bench'? We thought we needed to bring one of our bigs off the bench because Pardon is a tough cover. They go to him. And it’s good to have a fresh guy coming in on him,” McCaffery said.

“I felt like Nicholas in the starting lineup, he’s a fifth-year senior. He’s played well here before.”

McCaffery used only his eight available scholarship players against Northwestern. All played at least 14 minutes. He used guard Maishe Dailey at forward at times. He had his son, backup point guard Connor McCaffery, at the bottom of the zone defense at other times, contending with Northwestern’s bigger players.

It all worked for a night.

But Ohio State is coming into Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday. Cook’s availability will be a big storyline again.

Baer comes through on the boards

This has become known as a “Nicholas Baer stat line.” It reads: Nine points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals. And that still doesn’t necessarily reflect all that Baer meant to this victory.

Baer made Iowa’s only two 3-pointers in the first half. It was his offensive rebound and basket in the second half that first cut into Northwestern’s biggest lead, 44-37. That was just before Wieskamp took over.

But Baer, who is reluctant to talk about himself, said his biggest contribution was the rebounding. He had nine defensive boards. Iowa owned a 40-32 edge overall on the glass.

“When you look at some of the shots they were taking late game, sometimes if they get some offensive rebounds and putbacks like they did in other games, then it’s a whole different ballgame,” Baer said. “But being able to keep them to one shot, and then come down and get a really good possession, I think was key for us.”

Northwestern had six second-chance points.

Baer did some work Wednesday.