Gesell finds game in Iowa's sluggish win over Pepperdine

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. – That Iowa shooting ailment that revealed itself in Madison Square Garden didn't find a team-wide cure Monday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

But a win is a win, and Mike Gesell is a big reason why the Hawkeyes got one against visiting Pepperdine 72-61.

The junior point guard, who shot 28 percent in Iowa's first four games of the season, hit 4-of-7 shots Monday — including 3-for-3 from 3-point range — before an announced crowd of 12,979.

"I feel like I'm a great shooter," Gesell said after scoring 15 points, "and I'm going to continue to shoot the ball."

Gesell suffered a nationally televised mini-slump in New York City last week — 3-for-15 from the field — in 2K Classic losses against Texas and Syracuse.

"In New York, I think I was over-penetrating at times," Gesell said, "and wasn't utilizing my shot fake."

Gesell delivered on a snowy Monday night when most of Iowa's nine-man rotation couldn't find a shooting rhythm.

Josh Oglesby was 1-for-7. Peter Jok was 0-for-4. Big man Adam Woodbury was 3-for-9. Even Jarrod Uthoff, who scored 15 points, missed nine shots and four free throws.

After making 10 of its first 16 field goals, Iowa went 15-for-45 the rest of the way and finished with a 41-percent shooting night — on the heels of a clunky 34.9-percent shooting trip in Manhattan.

Give Pepperdine credit — it played scrappy defense, as it had during its 3-0 start, including a 63-44 road win at San Jose State on Thursday.

"That's a terrific basketball team we just beat," said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, not measuring style points.

"Our execution wasn't as sharp as it needs to be. It's got to get better. It's early."

On a night when the Hawkeyes (3-2) were wobbly, Gesell was steady.

His third 3-pointer of the night gave Iowa a 13-point lead, 62-49, after Pepperdine had clawed back to within five less than 2 minutes earlier.

"I'm really happy for Mike," said Iowa senior Aaron White, who had one of the quietest 17-point, nine-rebound, four-steal nights you'll find. "I know people can be hard on him, missing late free throws and turning the ball over and missing shots. That's all part of the game.

"Sometimes you need a game like this, personally, to get yourself going and get your confidence back."

The free throws White mentioned? That's been a puzzling piece of Gesell's game the last year-plus.

Hawkeye fans remember Gesell missing a pair of key free throws in crunch time in a loss at Iowa State. He finished last season at 67.1 percent, after draining 79.4 percent as a freshman.

"My whole career, I've been 80-plus free-throw shooter," Gesell said.

The foul-line struggles spilled into the Big Apple, where he went 1-for-5.

Monday was a small sample size, but a 4-for-4 night boosted Gesell's confidence after he admitted he beat himself up "a little bit" following the 2K Classic.

"I'm going to continue to look to be more aggressive," Gesell said. "That's one thing I feel like I need to do on this team. I'm one of the upperclassmen now, and we've got to be aggressive from the guard spot."

Quick hits: McCaffery said he felt "terrible" that he didn't play freshman DomUhl on Monday. ... Iowa committed a season-low 12 turnovers and collected a season-high 12 steals. ... The Hawkeyes are back in action at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against Northern Illinois. That, like Monday's game, is an ESPN3 Web-only telecast.