IOWA CITY, Ia. — What makes the third-ranked Iowa basketball team so dangerous was embodied in Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok on Sunday.
Uthoff unleashed a first-half barrage against Northwestern; Jok took the baton for the second. And third-ranked Iowa won going away, with the 85-71 final score before 15,400 fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena not reflective of how in-control the Hawkeyes were.
“It was great,” Jok said. “It was like pick your poison.”
Try to guard one prolific scorer, the other one can hurt you. Northwestern couldn’t stop both — even though it certainly tried.
“Uthoff and Jok were the two guys we wanted to be with at all times,” Wildcats coach Chris Collins said.
Chris Collins speaks after an 85-71 loss to the Hawkeyes. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
Jok finished with 26 points, 22 coming in the first 9 minutes, 38 seconds of the second half in a torrid run.
Uthoff scored 23 points, with 19 coming in the first half as Iowa took a 42-26 lead.
“Teams don’t know what to do,” Uthoff said. “Because you start overplaying Pete, I’ll make a bunch of shots. You start overplaying me, Pete will make a bunch of different shots.”
No wonder teams have mostly been confounded by the surprising Hawkeyes in the first half of the Big Ten Conference season. Sunday’s win launched Iowa to 17-4 overall and to 8-1 at the halfway point of the Big Ten season, good for a tie for first with Indiana.
When both players are “on” — and that’s mostly been the case, save Thursday’s 74-68 loss at No. 8 Maryland — the Hawkeyes are tough to beat.
And maybe that confidence that at least one guy is usually on is why Jok was sure that Uthoff would bounce back from a 2-for-13 shooting performance and season-low nine points at Maryland: “Whoever’s guarding him next game better come ready to play,” Jok said after that game.
Jok was right, and after a wonky start in which he missed his first three 3-point attempts, Uthoff got rolling. He hit a fade-away 2-pointer, then back-to-back 3-pointers. Suddenly, he had scored 12 of Iowa’s first 16 points and the team collectively seemed to shake off any Maryland hangover.
Uthoff said he came into the practice gym on his own early for extra shots, “just to get my mind right.”
Did it work?
“As far as I’m concerned, it worked,” said the Big Ten’s leading scorer, who completed a terrific stat line with six rebounds, three blocks and two steals. “But you’re going to have off nights. I could’ve had an off night tonight.”
The senior had 19 in the first half vs. Northwestern. He was coming off a 2-for-13 night against Maryland. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
And Jok took over in the second half.
The 6-foot-6 junior pumped in 14 straight Iowa points during a key stretch after Northwestern chopped the Hawkeyes’ 42-26 halftime lead to 44-35. Nine of those came on back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers in 90 seconds that had Jok fired up — and the sellout crowd the loudest it was all afternoon.
“When the crowd got into it, it really pumped me up, too,” he said.
Jok juked and powered his way inside the paint area, too, drawing 12 free-throw attempts (making 10).
That’s another beauty of his developing game — when defenders overcompensate to extend their defense to the 3-point line, he’ll drive.
“They all think I’m just a shooter, so they’re all flying out at me,” Jok said. “I was trying to attack, get to the free-throw line, too.”
The Iowa junior scored 22 points in the first 9:22 of the second half. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
Jok didn’t play in the final 10:38 of the game, or he might have sniffed his career high of 29 he registered Jan. 21 at Rutgers. But he wasn't really needed; when Jok exited, Iowa’s lead was 67-42 over the reeling Wildcats (15-8, 3-7 Big Ten).
“He’s really an interesting player, because he’s so smart and he gets open and he gets going,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I think the impressive thing was how our guys got him the ball. They recognized where he was. When he gets in a groove like that, you’ve got to load him up.”
Point guard Mike Gesell obliged — three of his four assists came on Jok’s 3-point tear. The senior also provided a terrific analogy for Jok, which also could be a borrowed nickname from former Detroit Pistons guard Vinnie Johnson.
“I’m so happy for him. He’s like a microwave. He can get it going at any second,” Gesell said. “Once he hits that first one, I know I’m trying to come right back to him, because I know he can he hit two, three, four in a row.”
The Iowa guard says players moved on quickly from Maryland loss. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com