Unselfish Hawkeyes pound North Dakota State
IOWA CITY, Ia. We're only two games in, but so far there's a lot to like about Iowa basketball, Version 2014-15.
The Hawkeyes followed up Friday's season-opening 34-point rout of Hampton with Monday's 87-56 shellacking of visiting North Dakota State — the first time in nine seasons Iowa has opened its schedule with back-to-back wins by 20-plus points, let alone 30-plus.
A sign of good things to come? The last Hawkeye team to do it, in 2005-06, won the Big Ten Tournament and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament under Steve Alford.
"I think we've done a pretty good job these two games of locking into the gameplan," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "These two teams that we beat … are good teams, and I think teams that ultimately in their conference are going to be very successful."
If Iowa (2-0) wins its next game by 20-plus, that'll be something to get excited about. A much more daunting task awaits: No. 10 Texas, in the semifinals of the 2K Classic at New York City's Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
Forget that North Dakota State lost a bunch of talent off its team from last year that upset Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament. There's a lot to like about the Hawkeyes so far.
Chalk the early success up to intense ball movement and pressure defense.
The ball-movement part: Iowa has 40 assists on 59 baskets this year, including 20-on-30 Monday. The Hawkeyes are shooting 50.4 percent for the season.
"I think our transition game was the best it's been in a while," McCaffery said.
The defense part: North Dakota State — the national leader in field-goal percentage a year ago at 50.5 percent — shot 20 percent (8-for-40) on 2-pointers. The Bison (0-2) went without a field goal for 11 minutes, 42 seconds at one point. Iowa had a 58-26 lead by then.
Adam Woodbury is showing signs of a breakout junior season. The 7-foot-1 Sioux City product posted his first career double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds, in his 73rd collegiate game.
Gabe Olaseni completed a successful night for Iowa's twin towers. The 6-10 senior pumped in a team-best 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Jarrod Uthoff's shooting stroke was smooth and confident as it was vs. Hampton. He had 12 points in 22 minutes.
Anthony Clemmons is easily the front-runner for Most Improved Hawkeye. He canned a career-high three 3-pointers, continued his reputation as a defensive pest and finished with 11 points with three steals.
This was a night where Iowa didn't require much from its top player. Aaron White didn't get into the scorebook until 5:31 remained in the first half. But he still quietly assembled a line of 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
White praised the constant motion and unselfishness he's seen out of his fourth Iowa team and first without first-team all-Big Ten guard Devyn Marble, now with the Orlando Magic.
So far, this Hawkeye group seems to have a 10-man rotation full of unselfish cogs that complement each other.
"That's the great thing about our team," White said Monday. "Not one of us needs the ball in our hands constantly."
The lesson continued.
"It's really motion — move the ball, if you have something take it. If you don't, move it on," said White, who played a team-high 25 minutes but attempted just five shots. "And so far, so good. The key is when times get tough, you don't put it on your shoulders. You keep sharing the basketball. You keep trusting your teammates, and you play together."
And that's how Woodbury and Olaseni combine for 24 and 22.
"If they collapse, you swing it out. If not, you go score the ball over a guy that's shorter than you," White explained. "If two of your front-line guys have double-doubles, something's going right."