White delivers emotional sendoff in Hawkeyes' sixth straight win

Chad Leistikow
Iowa forward Aaron White (30) dribbles against Northwestern during the first half at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. White scored 25 points in the Hawkeyes' 69-52 senior day victory.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Aaron White was fine, until his head coach came into his path.

Then the water works began.

"We had a few bets going about who would cry," said fellow senior and close friend Gabe Olaseni, White's roommate the past three years. "I think I'm going to eat well tonight."

White objected following Iowa's 69-52 win over Northwestern, citing a Senior Day technicality.

"That was for the beginning of the game," White said, grinning. "End of game was off limits.

"I would've been fine if I hadn't hugged coach for so long. He's the one that got me."

With 43 seconds left Saturday, White waved to the Carver-Hawkeye Arena fans for the last time and embraced Fran McCaffery — a moment that triggered raw tears from White and symbolized their four-year journey together.

For White, Olaseni and Josh Oglesby — three key seniors who have helped the Iowa program win 83 games the past four years (after it won 49 the previous four) — the day was, to quote White, perfect.

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White finished with 25 points and eight rebounds. His top-of-the-key 3-pointer with 1:34 remaining cemented that Iowa would end the regular season on a six-game winning streak.

"There's no higher note I could've gone out on," White said after his fourth consecutive game of 20-plus points. "The pull-up three was my last shot, got the rebound, coach called the timeout. Place was going crazy.

"This will always be one of the best days I've had in my life."

Iowa finished the regular season 21-10 overall, tied for third at 12-6 in the Big Ten and guaranteed it would be no worse than the No. 5 seed at the conference tournament that begins Wednesday in Chicago.

A Strongsville, Ohio, native whose only Big Ten scholarship offer was from McCaffery, White did it all Saturday — making a strong final case to be named first-team all-Big Ten when those teams are released Monday.

The sellout crowd was hopping from the start on Senior Day, with White — who has scored most of his 1,793 career points on the interior and at the foul line — stepping out to swish two 3-pointers for a 6-0 Hawkeye lead.

He later slammed home six dunks — many on back-door alley-oops that Northwestern failed to defend.

Hawkeye point guard Mike Gesell, who didn't score but tied a career-high with nine assists, noticed on film the back line of Northwestern's 2-3 zone had a tendency to creep up.

"I was making a concerted effort to look for it," Gesell said, "and it was open a lot."

Jarrod Uthoff also had a pair of high-flying dunks on his way to 16 points, and fellow junior Adam Woodbury came off the bench for the first time in his career to score 13.

But this was a day for the seniors, particularly White. By halftime, White had passed Acie Earl (1,779) for second-place on Iowa's all-time scoring list. He also moved into third on the all-time rebounds list with 881, passing Ed Horton (877).

Afterward, White hoped fans would "remember me as one of the all-time greats here."

In the pregame ceremony honoring Iowa's seniors, White was joined by his parents, Rick White and Debbie Kuntz, and was given a rousing ovation. But he exhibted laser focus on basketball for the next two hours — until he left the home hardwood for the final time.

"It was a big game. We needed to get to 12-6. We needed to finish out the season strong," White said. "I was ready to play the game. I waited for the emotional stuff until afterward."