Iowa hoops takeaways: 'King of rebounding' is on a tear

Chad Leistikow
Iowa's Adam Woodbury celebrates a 3-pointer from Peter Jok during the Hawkeyes' game against Penn State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Adam Woodbury isn’t big on talking about himself. Luckily, his Iowa teammates have plenty to say about him.

The 7-foot-1 center continues to have a phenomenal senior year, pulling down a career-high 15 rebounds in seventh-ranked Hawkeyes’ 73-49 win against Penn State on Wednesday.

“Ball bounced my way a couple times,” Woodbury said, “and they missed some shots.”

Cue forward Nicholas Baer, who put what Woodbury’s been doing for Iowa — an average of 11.0 rebounds in the last five games — in a more quotable way.

“He’s the anchor of our defense,” Baer said, “and the king of rebounding.”

Fans are learning to appreciate all the little things Woodbury does, like his bullet outlet passes after a rebound to get a fast break going. He can whip a ball down-court with either hand effectively. He certainly leads the Hawkeyes (18-4 overall, 9-1 in the Big Ten Conference) in screens set.

“The great thing about Woody, he doesn’t care about points,” guard Peter Jok said. “He just wants to do whatever it takes to win. We’re having a successful year because of him.”

Woodbury has attempted only four shots in the last two games after recording three straight double-doubles. But Baer’s right, he’s taken rebounding to a new level this year – averaging a team-best 7.4 a game, including an 8.7 average in conference play.

Woodbury averaged 4.6 rebounds per game in his first three seasons at Iowa. What’s changed?

“I played with (Aaron White) my first three years, and he was second in the program’s history in rebounding,” Woodbury joked. (White is actually No. 3 all-time with 901 rebounds, but the point is still valid.) “He took a few away from me, that’s for sure. A lot of credit to him, though. I’ve just got a lot more opportunity this year and more stats.”

The latest Wagner wrinkle

Every game, there seems to be a new Ahmad Wagner moment.

Wednesday against Penn State, it was the freshman’s two-handed power slam along the baseline in the confines of Iowa’s half-court offense.

This one, his teammates saw coming in practice.

“Finally. Everybody’s been preaching to go up and dunk it every time,” guard Anthony Clemmons said. “He has this unbelievable first step … almost like how Aaron White was. He’s so strong with it.”

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery seems to be asked about Wagner’s growing contributions each game. Wagner had eight points and five rebounds in 18 minutes, which tied a season high. The power forward is shooting 68.8 percent from the floor (22-for-32) this season.

“He's just a guy that really understands how to play, knows what to do,” McCaffery said, “and he's a spectacular athlete.”

McCaffery on Gesell: ‘He’s fine’

Mike Gesell was first noticeably slowed by a lingering leg injury five games ago against Rutgers. McCaffery said that’s not a reason for his slumping numbers of late.

“No, he’s fine,” McCaffery said.

Even though Gesell is shooting 8-for-33 from the floor in Iowa’s last five games, including three conceded 2-point makes in the final 18 seconds of the Jan. 28 loss at Maryland, his ball-handling remains essential to what Iowa does. The Hawkeyes rely on him to play 25 to 30-plus minutes a night, even battling through any pain, because he and Clemmons are the only proven point guards.

Still, Gesell’s 3.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the first 18 games has gone down to 1-to-1 in Iowa’s last four (12 assists, 12 turnovers). He had two points (0-for-5 shooting) and two assists in 25 minutes vs. Penn State.

“I thought he played a really good floor game tonight,” McCaffery said. “Just having trouble getting it in.”

Off the bench, in the hoop

Baer continues to be a spark plug for Iowa. It seems he can hop off the bench cold and instantly heat things up with a swished 3-pointer — as he did from the left corner Wednesday to extend the lead to 36-22.

“Part of that is being ready to go at all times, and not necessarily being focused on how long you’ve been sitting there,” said Baer, 3-for-4 from 3-point range in Iowa’s last two games. “What I try to do is I try to stay engaged in the game with my mind. …  What’s the time? What’s the score? And how can I impact the game?”

The redshirt freshman walk-on from Bettendorf continues to be a great story; he scored eight points against the Nittany Lions, his highest total of 2016.

“I’m having a blast so far. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of this team,” Baer said. “Very unselfish team. That’s the best part. Nobody really cares who’s having the glory as long as we’re winning.”

And finally …

The scoreboard is all that matters, but it’s worth taking note of two Hawkeye statistics trending the wrong way.

Iowa’s team assist totals the last three games are its three lowest of the season — nine at Maryland, 10 vs. Northwestern and 12 vs. Penn State (tying the 12 it had vs. Drake). The Hawkeyes averaged 17.8 assists before this three-game stretch, 10.3 during it.

The 3-point accuracy has sunk to 30 percent (18-for-60) in the last three games, after going for a 41-percent clip in the first 19.

The two stats are naturally linked together. And Iowa just played its worst game at Maryland followed by two uncontested blowouts at home. So these aren’t anything to panic about, but they’re worth monitoring.