IOWA CITY, Ia. — An active Joe Wieskamp is the best thing that can happen to the Iowa basketball team.
Coach Fran McCaffery told his freshman star as much after Wieskamp scored only three points in a Sunday loss at Minnesota.
“I said, ‘You gotta recognize when you walk on the floor, you gotta view yourself as one of the best players out there; wouldn't trade you for anybody,’” McCaffery said. “’So go out there and attack. Be aggressive. Shoot 3s. Drive it. Dunk it. Rebound it. Kick it.
“’You make a mistake, run back, guard your man. I'm not going to yank ya. I'm going to let you play through it. I'm going to tell you to shoot it again and develop confidence. But develop that swag that you need to be one of the premier players in this league and ultimately in the country.’ That's what he is.”
That’s certainly what Wieskamp was Friday in the No. 25 Hawkeyes’ 74-59 upset victory over No. 5 Michigan at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He was the best player on the court long before portions of the soldout crowd came storming onto it.
It didn’t start out so well for Wieskamp. His initial drive to the basket, less than three minutes into the game, resulted in a missed layup, offensive rebound, and another shot that rolled off the rim. A minute later, he was called for a foul while defending away from the ball. That sent him to the bench, where Hawkeye assistant coaches seemed to take turns walking over to offer words of encouragement.
“They told me to keep being aggressive. I should have made that layup. Didn’t get me off to a great start,” Wieskamp said.
He returned to the court midway through the first half, his team trailing 17-14. Soon, Wieskamp stole a Zavier Simpson pass and sped downcourt for a fast-break basket. Then he got the ball in the left corner, his favorite spot for launching 3-pointers. Instead, he drove past onrushing Wolverine defender Ignas Brazdeikis for another layup. Next was a dunk in traffic.
Wieskamp was feeling it. Michigan sure felt it, too. He finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and five steals. He played 33 minutes, the most of any Hawkeye.
Wieskamp made all six of his 3-pointers in a Jan. 20 victory over Illinois. Then came two losses in which he totaled eight points as opposing coaches adjusted how they were defending him.
“It was very frustrating for me the whole week leading up to this game,” Wieskamp confessed.
“I think people are starting to recognize me as a shooter. As you could tell, people were flying at me and that’s why I was able to shot-fake and get to the rim,” Wieskamp said. “And I think now people are going to realize I’m a complete player.”
How complete? Wieskamp’s biggest play might have occurred on the defensive end with 4:52 remaining. Michigan had scored five quick points to trim the deficit to 67-56. Their full-court pressure was bothering the Hawkeyes, who suddenly had trouble merely inbounding the basketball. Iowa was whistled for a five-second violation. Things were getting a little tense in Carver-Hawkeye.
That’s when Wieskamp backpedaled, leaped and picked off an inbound pass by Michigan’s Jordan Poole. It looked like a play former Hawkeye cornerback Josh Jackson would have made. It was 2 ½ minutes before Michigan scored again.
Game over. Wieskamp mini-slump over.
“I think for us to be a good team,” he said afterward, “I need to score the ball.”
That’s essentially what McCaffery was telling him. Wieskamp listened.
Kriener 3-ball gets him rolling ... again
The best sign that Ryan Kriener is about to go off is if he makes an early 3-pointer. Iowa’s junior backup center has done that in seven games this season. He averages 11.7 points in those games, more than double his normal output.
Kriener entered Friday’s game with 13:22 left in the first half after starter Luka Garza was called for a second foul. The score was tied 9-9 in what was shaping up to be a classic Big Ten slog. These were vital minutes for a Hawkeye team that couldn’t afford to fall behind while Garza sat out until halftime, which is McCaffery’s preference for players with a pair of first-half fouls.
Instead, the Hawkeyes (17-5, 6-5 Big Ten Conference) took command. Kriener nailed a 3-pointer from the right elbow that tied the score 17-17. Iowa never again trailed.
“If you see that first shot go in, just a skyrocket of confidence,” Kriener explained.
He finished with 15 points and a career-high 10 rebounds. Garza said Kriener’s impassioned play made sitting and watching the game more bearable for him. McCaffery said it allowed him to resist the thought of sending Garza back into the game in the first half. Garza scored 15 of his 19 points after intermission.
Kriener had scored only six points in Iowa’s previous three games. On Friday, his initial 3-pointer opened up driving lanes for him, much as it did in a Jan. 16 win at Penn State.
“After I hit that first one, (Michigan) coach (John) Beilein was yelling ‘Shooter!’ every time I caught the ball. So they were running out, I was able to drive a lot more,” Kriener said.
“I got myself in trouble (against) Michigan State and Illinois trying to spin through the defense. I need to be more controlled on my drives.”
'Great' is in the eye of the beholder
Iowa rose five spots in the all-important NET rankings after Friday’s win, to 22. That would be the equivalent of a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which is still six weeks away.
Beilein, as he is prone to do, was heaping postgame praise on the Hawkeye team that had just sent his squad to only its second defeat of the season. He even used the word “great.”
McCaffery was asked if he would also employ that adjective. He didn’t directly answer that question.
“John's a class guy,” McCaffery said of his coaching counterpart. “I remember when they beat us in the conference tournament (last March), he said to me … ‘You're going to have a lot of fun next year with this young team you have,’ which was a really classy thing to say.
“And I appreciated that. And I think we've known each other for a long time. I don't think he said it to make me feel good; I think he really believed it. So the fact that he said what he said tonight, I think is indicative of what he thinks about our team.”
It’s certainly indicative of how Iowa played Friday. But the “great” debate will have to wait until the conclusion of the season. Iowa has an 8 p.m. Thursday game at Indiana up next.