Hawkeyes compete for playing time against Coppin State

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Jarrod Uthoff scored 21 points in the first half, and his team needed every one of them. The Hawkeyes went to the locker room with a precarious 41-37 lead over Gardner-Webb in Friday’s season opener.

Uthoff didn’t score in the second half, which sounds like a troubling proposition. But his teammates stepped up in a 76-59 victory.

Who steps up, and who earns a solid spot in coach Fran McCaffery’s playing rotation, is to be determined. That’s why opportunities like Friday’s opener and Sunday’s 4 p.m. game against Coppin State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena are so important.

“I saw a lot of guys contribute and I think that’s the most important thing,” McCaffery said after Friday’s victory.

McCaffery is looking for answers on a roster that includes four true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen and a sophomore vying for playing time.

Stepping up in Friday’s opener were three forwards: sophomore Dom Uhl, redshirt freshman Nicholas Baer and freshman Ahmad Wagner. Uhl didn’t play well in Iowa’s exhibition loss to Augustana of South Dakota on Nov. 6. McCaffery played him just two minutes.

“I think if he revs it up, he’ll be pretty good,” McCaffery said last week. “And if he doesn’t, he’ll just be OK. And then his minutes will be where they’ll end up and probably not to his liking.”

Uhl responded Friday, scoring six points and grabbing six rebounds in 19 minutes. Also stepping up was Baer, who made a pair of 3-pointers and got 13 minutes in his college debut.

“You need Nicholas Baer to come off the bench and do what he did,” McCaffery said. “He was really, really special. He comes in and hits a 3 right away, hits another 3 to put us up 17. He makes a big defensive play. He’s on the glass. He missed some shots, but he’s going to keep shooting. He’s really a talented guy.”

Making the most of his nine minutes was Wagner, who had six points and eight rebounds. Wagner missed several days of practice last week because of a shoulder injury, but he displayed the kind of strength on the block that will earn him Big Ten minutes.

“He’s just a guy that really understands how to play,” McCaffery said. “He understands what his strengths are and he’s just a phenomenal athlete with tremendous strength.”

Against Coppin State, someone else might step up. It will be that kind of give-and-take that will give McCaffery a better idea of who he can depend on once the Big Ten season arrives.

And there will probably be more minutes available than expected. Starting guard Peter Jok sprained an ankle early in the second half Friday and didn’t return. It is not believed to be a long-term issue, but Jok is doubtful for Sunday’s game. McCaffery said Friday that redshirt freshman Brady Ellingson is a likely starter in Jok’s absence, “but there’s a lot of candidates.”

Like McCaffery, Coppin State coach Michael Grant has a lot of new on his roster. The Eagles, with nine newcomers, lost their opener at Eastern Kentucky on Friday, 107-80. Guard Christian Kessee had 18 points and forward Terry Harris added 13 points and 10 rebounds.