MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — By the opening minutes of the second half Sunday, even Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was tired of watching his starting unit get worked over by Minnesota.
McCaffery pulled all five of them out of the game, a clear signal that he was searching for anybody willing to commit to playing defense against a Gophers team that was scoring with stunning ease.
No. 21 Iowa never did find the solution, although things got better late. Minnesota hung on for a 92-87 victory before an enthusiastic crowd at Williams Arena.
The Hawkeyes dropped a second consecutive game after winning five straight.
They trailed by as many as 16 points and things looked bleak. But an 11-0 run got Iowa within four points late with a chance to make it a one-possession game. Instead, Tyler Cook, the Hawkeyes' leading scorer, made two crucial mistakes.
First, he shot an airball on the front end of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity. Next, Cook grabbed a defensive rebound and headed determinedly upcourt, only to lose the ball for his fifth turnover of the game.
The Hawkeyes never again got that close.
Minnesota helped matters by missing seven of eight free throws in one stretch, causing the crowd to start murmuring in apprehension.
Luka Garza scored 25 points to lead Iowa. Isaiah Moss had 23. Cook finished with 18.
But Iowa's two best 3-point shooters, Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp, were non-factors for much of the game. Wieskamp made three late free throws; Bohannon's lone basket was a layup in the waning seconds that the Gophers allowed him to take.
The Hawkeyes (16-5, 5-5 Big Ten Conference) played their worst defensive half of basketball in the opening 20 minutes, trailing 55-46 as Minnesota made 21 of 32 shots. Iowa opened in man-to-man, tried zone and a trapping press. Nothing worked.
The Gophers (15-5, 5-4) average 73 points per game and were coming off an outing at Michigan in which they totaled 57. They turned it over only three times in the opening half and got 13 points from forward Jordan Murphy to scorch Iowa.
The Hawkeyes kept close with some excellent offense of their own, going 18-for-30 from the field and getting 12 points apiece from Cook and Moss. Iowa made only five 3-pointers in Thursday’s home loss to Michigan State. The Hawkeyes were 6 of 9 from that distance in the first half and 10-for-18 for the game.
Iowa next hosts Michigan at 6 p.m. Friday.