IOWA CITY, Ia. — Just when Iowa’s basketball team and its star player seem to be hitting rarefied air comes a nine-day span between games.
“I haven’t had nine days off in the season in a long time,” center Adam Woodbury said, “probably going back to high school. A little learning experience for us.”
The No. 19 Hawkeyes (12-3 overall, ranked 15th in the RPI) are 3-0 in Big Ten Conference play for the first time in 13 seasons following Tuesday’s 77-66 home win against Nebraska.
Jarrod Uthoff, the Big Ten’s leader in scoring (18.6 ppg) and blocked shots (3.3 a game), thinks the timing of Iowa’s layoff stinks.
“Personally, I don’t like having breaks. It gets me off-kilter. It gets me out of rhythm,” Uthoff said. “I like playing games back-to-back-to-back and kind of having your back against the wall. It’s going to be kind of tough for me, but we’ll all stay in the gym. Get extra shots up. Work on our individual games.”
The nine-day break is the longest for the Hawkeyes in conference play since two games were postponed following Chris Street’s death in January 1993. The first game after that 12-day break was at Michigan State. Coincidentally, Iowa’s next game after this nine-day layoff is at the home of the Spartans.
And Iowa’s most recent win at the Breslin Center? Yep, 1993.
Schedule ramps up again
It was big for Iowa to take care of business in front of Tuesday’s sleepy 8 p.m. tip-off (announced) crowd of 11,736, because after this break comes another gauntlet: at No. 5 Michigan State, Michigan, at Rutgers, No. 20 Purdue, at No. 3 Maryland.
And the nine-day break isn’t all bad. Coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday that “nine days should be plenty” of time for starting guard Anthony Clemmons to regain full health. The senior didn’t score and “was not himself” in 17 minutes against Nebraska while playing through a hip pointer.
During the time off, the Hawkeyes will be doing more fine-tuning than overhauling, and they can watch their Big Ten rivals beat up on each other along the way. Among the matchups while Iowa’s off: Michigan-Purdue, Maryland-Wisconsin, Ohio State-Indiana, Maryland-Michigan.
“Every team can improve in multiple ways,” Uthoff said. “I think overall — offensively, defensively, getting out in transition, spacing the floor — we can work on all that. I think we’ll do that over the next nine days and over the course of the second half of the season.”
The Iowa senior had 25 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks.
McCaffery isn’t afraid to get into his players. He certainly gave guard Peter Jok an earful during one timeout Tuesday; Jok struggled against Nebraska with eight points on 3-for-12 shooting in 31 minutes.
McCaffery even gets upset with Uthoff, too — and the senior might be the best player in the Big Ten right now. Uthoff’s dynamic stat lines are becoming a regular occurrence. He had 25 points, eight rebounds and four blocks against the Cornhuskers.
“When it's all said and done, he doesn't rattle. He doesn't get nervous. He's going to make big shots. He's going to take shots,” McCaffery said. “If you get on him, he looks at you funny like, ‘Coach, I have everything under control, no need to worry.’ So, it's great to have a guy like that on your team.”
Sophomore Dom Uhl didn’t seem thrilled before the season when he was learning the 5 position, something Iowa needed after Gabe Olaseni turned pro. Now, it’s starting to look like Uhl’s got a future in the middle.
The long, bulked-up 6-foot-8 native of Germany has brought a terrific inside-outside game off the bench, and he has a knack for hitting clutch shots. He canned two 3-pointers — for all six of his points — during a 13-0 Iowa second-half run at Purdue that lifted the Hawkeyes to a huge road win.
“Uhl's two 3s were huge in that game, based on the timing of when he made them,” McCaffery said. “He shot them without hesitation. That's what you want.”
And Tuesday against Nebraska, Uhl spun through the lane to score Iowa’s first two points after the Huskers took a 10-0 lead. Uhl wound up with 10 points and eight rebounds and, after going 2-for-3 from 3-point range, is 14-for-29 (48.3 percent) from distance this season.
Not bad for a backup center.
The senior had 22 points and 10 assists.
Gesell on record pace
Iowa's fourth-year point guard is scoring more as a senior because, in part, Devyn Marble and Aaron White — two of the school’s top-six all-time leading scorers with a combined 3,553 points — are in the pros.
“There weren’t as many shots in the offense when he was younger,” said Woodbury, Gesell’s AAU teammate. “Same goes for me, I have more shots in the offense now.”
Gesell is averaging 9.9 points a game — he was at 7.4 a year ago — and 6.9 assists, third in the Big Ten. With 104 assists already this season, Gesell is 89 away from surpassing Andre Woolridge’s 1996-97 season record of 192.
If Iowa were to play 18 more games (15 regular season, three postseason), Gesell would need to average just under 5.0 a game the rest of the way to set the mark. McCaffery saw this performance coming.
“Nobody saw him (in recruiting) more than I did. So I knew exactly what he was going to be,” Iowa’s sixth-year coach said. “… He was a big-time scorer in high school. And I pretty much asked him to be the point guard and to get us into our stuff and understand time and score.
“He's in great shape physically, he's in a great place mentally, and everybody feels better when he's got the ball.”
The Register's Chad Leistikow and Chris Cuellar talk the latest about Iowa football and basketball.