Pesky Wildcats won't be a Senior Day pushover for Hawkeyes
IOWA CITY, Ia. – There are so many elements of revenge that could be on the minds of Iowa basketball players entering Saturday's Senior Day and regular-season finale.
One, the opponent is Northwestern — the last team to hand the Hawkeyes a loss, on Feb. 15.
Two, it was the woeful 2013-14 Wildcats who also knocked Iowa out on the first day of last year's Big Ten Tournament.
Three, Iowa's previous Senior Day resulted in a stunning loss — 66-63 to Illinois on a 3-pointer with less than a second to go.
But the Hawkeyes say they are thinking about none of those things entering the sold-out 11 a.m. game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"No more motivation needed," said Iowa's Aaron White, who along with Kyle Denning, Josh Oglesby and Gabe Olaseni will be honored before the game. "Last game here. A couple more games left. It doesn't matter who we're playing. I think we're all going to be excited for it."
Iowa, at 20-10 overall and 11-6 in the Big Ten Conference, has lots more to play for than vengeance.
On top of increasing its NCAA Tournament credentials, beating Northwestern would clinch a third-place tie in the 14-team league and would guarantee no worse than a No. 5 seed at the Big Ten Tournament, which begins Wednesday in Chicago.
If either Michigan State (at Indiana) or Purdue (home vs. Illinois) loses Saturday and Iowa extends its winning streak to six, the Hawkeyes will wrap up a "double bye" in Chicago — a top-four seed that means they wouldn't tip off until Friday at the United Center.
The Hawkeyes with a win can also garner the No. 4 seed if Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State (home vs. Wisconsin) all win their Saturday games.
"I think every coach in this league would want to get the double bye," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "There's no question about that.
"We have to take care of our business or it won't matter. I mean, if those other teams win, we're not going to be fourth (place) anyway. The only thing we can do is take care of our business on Saturday and then hope it all works out."
But, for some reason, taking care of business against Northwestern is rarely easy for Iowa. McCaffery is 5-6 vs. the Wildcats.
The team second-year coach Chris Collins brings to Iowa City has won five of six games — a streak that began when it suffocated Iowa in a 66-61 overtime win in Evanston, Ill. — after a 1-10 Big Ten start.
The Wildcats' 2-3 zone crippled Iowa's interior game. White had one of his worst games as a Hawkeye — 1-for-12 shooting in 40 minutes. He said a few days later that he forced things too much, instead of letting the game come to him.
Since, he's averaged 20.4 points a game and Iowa has won five in a row.
"Pretty much every zone that's played against us, I thought we did a good job," said White, ticking off games against Syracuse and Ohio State, "until Northwestern. I don't know what it was that night. I missed a bunch of easy ones, a couple of dunks. Woody (Adam Woodbury) missed a couple of dunks. Just a weird finishing night. Even watching it again, I can't say exactly what they did."
Jarrod Uthoff scored a career-high 25 points in that game but didn't get much help. Afterward, he boldly said that Iowa could win its final six games — "whether we do that or not is really up to us."
High-paced ball movement and a potent inside-outside game have brought the confident Hawkeyes to within one crisp performance from delivering on Uthoff's goal.
"I think Saturday we'll be a little bit better finishing," White said. "I think we'll attack the baseline a little bit better. That'll really open up the outside, once we get to the baseline. That really spreads their zone out."
Iowa (20-10, 11-6) vs. Northwestern (15-15, 6-11)
• Specifics — 11 a.m. Saturday, Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City.
• Following the game — TV: Big Ten Network. Radio: WHO-AM (1040), WMT-AM (600) and the Hawkeye network. Live scoring: livestats.hawkeyesports.com.
• Preview — Iowa's senior class has 58 home wins in its career, a school record. Three other classes won 54. ... 64 points continues to be the magic number for the Hawkeyes, who are 19-1 when the score that many. ... Aaron White's last two games vs. Northwestern are forgettable: 11 points in 68 minutes. White needs 12 points to pass Acie Earl for No. 2 all-time on Iowa's scoring list.