Woodbury answers critics by spearheading sweep of Buckeyes

Chad Leistikow

Ohio State center Amir Williams, right, and Iowa center Adam Woodbury battle during Saturday's game in Iowa City.

IOWA CITY, Ia. –The Adam Woodbury critics had nothing to gripe about on this Saturday. Or if they did, they needed to look pretty hard.

With the 7-foot-1 junior center leading the way, Iowa outmuscled Ohio State 76-67, completing a season sweep of the Buckeyes in a rugged Big Ten Conference game before a sellout crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

"I think we took their best punch tonight," Woodbury said after his 13-point, 10-rebound performance. "And we were still standing."

And Woodbury was at the front of the black-and-gold pack Saturday, as Iowa (13-5 overall) stayed atop the Big Ten Conference race in the loss column at 4-1, with a Tuesday showdown at Wisconsin (also 4-1) next.

"One of the better games I've seen him play in a while," teammate Aaron White said. "I'm proud of him."

The critics have had a field day with Woodbury in his two-plus years here, pretty much ever since the prized recruit chose Iowa over North Carolina.

Too slow, they say. Too easy to guard. Can't dunk. Shouldn't be starting.

And on and on.

Fran McCaffery took exception to the detractors following Saturday's win.

"Never seen anything like it in my life," McCaffery said of the criticism.

Does it make you upset, Coach?

"Yes, in a big way. Because it's unfair," McCaffery said. "All that kid does is work his tail off every facet of everything he does, and he's got unbelievable character, represents the institution, his family, and he gets criticized unfairly."

Woodbury's performance Saturday shined well beyond a season-high point total and a second career double-double.

Teammates have consistently pointed to the little things he brings to the table.

Those things were on display Saturday — calling timeout after diving on the floor for a loose ball; finding White for a huge bucket with 2:09 left; holding 6-11, 250-pound center Amir Williams to two points and three rebounds.

"He sets the best screens I've ever played with," said junior guard Mike Gesell, a former AAU teammate of Woodbury's. "In practice, I hate being on the opposite team of him because I know I'm getting a charley horse that day."

One of those other little things that go unnoticed? Woodbury's vocal communication around the basket, not a small thing as Iowa is playing its best defense in the McCaffery era this season.

An inspired man-to-man defense limited Ohio State to nine points in the game's first 11 1/2 minutes.

"That's the beauty of him. When he's talking (on defense), he's right," McCaffery said. "And they do what he says, and they listen to him. The way that that impacts your team's defensive concept is immeasurable because they can't hear me (from the sideline). But they can hear him."

Remember Iowa's season-changing 60-55 win at North Carolina? None other than Dick Vitale pleaded with the Hawkeyes to find Woodbury in the post during that ESPN broadcast.

On Saturday, Woodbury made the most of his opportunities. He took a team-high 10 shots, making six. He was pressed into deeper action Saturday, tying a season-high with 28 minutes as Gabe Olaseni (four points, 10 minutes) faced foul trouble.

So, the critics. Woodbury laughed when the topic came up. He knows they're out there, yeah — behind a screen name.

"Nobody really says it to my face," Woodbury said. "If you want to say it on the computer when I'm not there, that's your prerogative.

"We live in a free country. I can't let that bother me. I've got to go play my game. Whether they like it or not, I'm still going to be here."

One of the strengths of Woodbury's game is he knows his limitations. He knows his role isn't meant for flash. But, as McCaffery sternly pointed out Saturday, he's glad Woodbury's on his team.

"I can't get above the rim and dunk like Whitey or Gabe or anything like that. I'm a below-the-rim guy," Woodbury said. "That's not what the fans want to see. The fans want to see ... highlight blocks, stuff like that. I just try to do little things that help us win."