Adam Woodbury's grit leads Iowa's latest impressive win

Chad Leistikow
Iowa's Adam Woodbury and Purdue's Caleb Swanigan scramble for a loose ball during the first half at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — With just under a minute to go, Adam Woodbury collected his 10th rebound of Sunday's Big Ten Conference showdown and was fouled. Carver-Hawkeye Arena erupted with a standing ovation, a nod to not only another win for ninth-ranked Iowa but for its tenacious 7-foot-1 center.

Woodbury set the tone of aggressiveness and fight required to take down the giant Purdue front line as the Hawkeyes delivered their ninth straight win, 83-71 over the 22nd-ranked Boilermakers before an electric crowd of 15,400.

Iowa (16-3 overall) is off to its first 7-0 Big Ten Conference start in 46 seasons — the best since the 1969-70 team went unbeaten in the 14-game league schedule. Six of Iowa's conference wins have come by double digits.

Where would the Hawkeyes be without Woodbury?

“Not where we are. He does all the dirty work," said star forward Jarrod Uthoff, who had another 22 points Sunday. "He rebounds like he’s not even human. … He sets screens, gets people open, he knocks down mid-range jumpers, he finishes at the rim. He does a lot for us.”

Not everything Woodbury does shows up in the box score. Sunday, he registered some late free throws to garner his second straight double-double and fourth this year.

“I always like playing a physical style of game. I think you guys have seen that over my four years," Woodbury said. "It’s not always out-scoring, out-rebounding. But if I can keep them off the glass and maybe they don’t get the rebound but we do, I think that’s a win for us.”

Woodbury’s hustle plays — defensive rebounds, poke-aways and under-the-bucket layups — were instrumental in Iowa’s 23-6 blitz to start the second half after trailing 35-33 at the break. His play and his chest-pounding fired up the crowd and his teammates.

“We get hyped on the bench because of him," said redshirt freshman Brady Ellingson, who scored eight key points. "He’s just a great leader, a great glue guy.”

Woodbury spent his 23 minutes on the floor Sunday scrapping against the nation's No. 1 team in rebounding margin, led by 7-foot A.J. Hammons and 7-2 Isaac Haas. Purdue won the battle of the boards, 41-33, but Iowa won the war.

Back-to-back defensive rebounds by Woodbury led to back-to-back 3-pointers from Mike Gesell and Uthoff early in the second half for a 41-35 lead. Woodbury then forced a turnover with a diving steal against Vince Edwards. On the next two possessions, he showed his excellent hands by grabbing drop-off passes from Uthoff for interior layups. Once down seven, Iowa was suddenly up 45-37.

For the game, Woodbury and Dom Uhl (eight points, five rebounds) held Hammons and Haas to a combined 11 points and eight rebounds — fewer than Woodbury's 13 and 10.

"I mean, he was special today," said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who on Monday will probably be presiding over a team ranked in the nation's top five.

The six teams ranked directly ahead of them in the Associated Press poll — No. 3 Kansas, No. 4 Villanova, No. 5 Xavier, No. 6 West Virginia, No. 7 Maryland and No. 8 SMU — all lost this week. So did No. 1 Oklahoma.

But it seems to be business as usual for Iowa's senior-led roster.

As the wins pile up, the players don't seem fazed by growing interest. Uthoff, on the court and in postgame interviews, is the king of unflappable.

“No pressure," said Uthoff, who scored 42 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and was 8-for-11 from 3-point range in two wins this week. "We came in this year (looking) for a Big Ten championship and looking for a national championship. The goal has not changed.”

Iowa hasn't won a Big Ten regular-season title in 37 years. Indiana is 7-0 in the Big Ten, too, so there's a long way to get there.

But helping the Hawkeyes reach that goal was yet another sweep of a leading Big Ten contender. They've now gone 2-for-2 against Michigan State and Purdue, two of the league's preseason favorites.

On Thursday, they'll face yet another in Maryland, which has a 13-0 home record in its second year as a Big Ten member.

"You’ve got to love playing in the Big Ten. Every night, you get to play against one of the best teams in the country," Gesell said. "It’s going to be a great matchup."