Iowa forward Joe Wieskamp doesn't remember ever having a perfect shooting day. He also says last 4 minutes of the first half were critical. Hear more: Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The legend of Joe Wieskamp was too much for Brad Underwood to pass up.
Wieskamp plays for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Underwood coaches the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Underwood never walks out to the basketball court early to watch opponents during pregame warmups. But he made an exception for Wieskamp on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. And, boy, did he regret it.
“I’m fascinated with guys who can make baskets. I sat out there and watched him at the free-throw line hit about 19 (jumpshots) in a row and I don’t think any of them hit the rim. And I said, ‘I’m going to make myself sick because he’s on the opposing team,’” Underwood said after Iowa annihilated his team 95-71 before an announced crowd of 13,589.
It turns out that Wieskamp wasn’t just on target during warmups. He made all eight of his field goals and both of his free throws when it counted. Six of his shots were 3-pointers. The freshman finished with 24 points and said afterward he couldn’t remember a game in which he never missed a shot.
“I’ve been struggling shooting a little bit the past couple of games (6 of 17), so I just came out and tried to be efficient. When that first shot went down, it gave me a lot of confidence,” Wieskamp said.
“It’s a great feeling. I have the confidence every game that every shot I take is going to go in. And luckily (Sunday), that’s what happened.”
Wieskamp said it reminded him of a game he played against Bettendorf while at Muscatine High School. He scored 54 points in that one. Shooters just get into a zone sometimes, he said.
What made Sunday’s performance by Iowa so unique is that Wieskamp wasn’t the only shooter feeling that way. The No. 24 Hawkeyes (16-3, 5-3 Big Ten Conference) had their most accurate shooting day ever at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, making 34 of 50 field goals (68 percent). It was their fifth win in a row, and easily the most impressive.
Isaiah Moss scored 21 points, making his first five 3-pointers. He added six assists. Iowa made 15 of 21 3-pointers in all. The Hawkeyes had 29 assists on their 34 baskets.
They scored 56 points in the second half, including one 83-second stretch that began and ended with Moss 3-pointers, sandwiched around one by Jordan Bohannon and another by Wieskamp.
How does Iowa coach Fran McCaffery account for his team's record-setting shooting against Illinois? He empowers his players, he says. Listen in: Hawk Central
The Illini (5-13, 1-6) were thoroughly blistered. The fans were thoroughly entertained, rising in anticipation with every Hawkeye shot.
“That was the first time I’ve ever been part of that, and it made it so much better being in Carver,” said Moss, a junior. “The fans, they riled us up. So that was a lot of fun.”
Illinois takes defensive aggressiveness to the extreme. They thrive on forcing turnovers, and did so nine times in the first half. But that also creates openings for the opposing offense. Wieskamp felt the Hawkeyes took advantage of those perfectly.
“Guys were finding people in the open areas. People were sliding in the right spots. People were back-cutting,” Wieskamp said. “We knew they were going to be up in our space.”
“He’s an elite, elite shooter,” Underwood said of Wieskamp.
He certainly found plenty of evidence to support that statement Sunday.
Connor McCaffery spurs a tremendous passing effort
Connor McCaffery is Iowa’s backup point guard. He played 21 minutes Sunday. He had a career-high eight assists. He may have been the happiest Hawkeye.
“I think it helps whenever I pass it to somebody they make it,” McCaffery joked of his assist total. “There was a lot of open space when they’re pressuring like that, so it makes it hard on the ball-handler, but it also makes it a little easier for us to find space to go and create other opportunities that we might not have against a stacked defense.”
McCaffery’s best pass may have come just ahead of the halftime buzzer. Iowa was playing for the final shot, and the play was intended to go to Tyler Cook in the post. Illinois took that possibility away. Finally, McCaffery spotted Moss at the 3-point arc on the opposite side of the court, passing the ball in a perfect spot for Moss to drain what would be the first of his five 3s. Iowa had a 39-24 lead at intermission.
Iowa point guard Connor McCaffery had a big assist to Isaiah Moss, plus seven more. What was his approach? Listen in: Hawk Central
McCaffery said it was apparent early that Wieskamp was going to have a special day. He even gathered his teammates for some instruction.
“Yo, we’re looking for him,” McCaffery said, referring to Wieskamp. “We’re getting him shots. In transition, find him. In half-court, screen for him. I want to get him shots.”
McCaffery did find time to score three points of his own. He grabbed one defensive rebound. But mostly, he got shots for everybody else. There were so many hot hands, he just had to decide which pair to find.
Tyler Cook returns, and says he's 100 percent healthy
Cook returned to the Hawkeyes’ starting lineup after sitting out of Wednesday’s win at Penn State with a sprained left ankle. He previously missed the Jan. 9 victory at Northwestern because of right knee soreness.
Cook, a junior power forward, is Iowa’s leading scorer at 17.1 points per game. But he wasn’t needed for much offense Sunday. He scored only seven points and took a mere two shots. He was clearly rusty early, forcing things too often and finishing with five turnovers. But he said he felt no pain and pronounced himself 100 percent healthy afterward.
“When everybody’s hitting, I can just run up and down and get some cardio in, kind of slowly ease my way into it,” Cook joked.
“I’ll take enough (shots) on Thursday and the games coming up.”
A healthy Cook will be vital for Iowa if it hopes to contend with Michigan State here at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Spartans manhandled Iowa in their first meeting, a 90-68 win on Dec. 3.
“I thought he looked like he had some explosion,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Cook.
Cook definitely appeared to be his old self when he threw down a left-handed dunk in the first half.
“I wasn’t necessarily making plays that I normally would, made some dumb mistakes that I normally don’t make,” Cook said. “I kind of expected that, going into it. In the second half, I felt a lot better.”