Iowa alone in first again after holding off Minnesota

Chad Leistikow
Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff drives into the lane during the Hawkeyes' win against Minnesota.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa finished the week where it started: alone atop the Big Ten Conference.

The fifth-ranked Hawkeyes shook off a sluggish start and an inspired Minnesota effort to grind out a 75-71 victory — recording coach Fran McCaffery’s fourth straight 20-win season and extending their Carver-Hawkeye Arena winning streak to 16 games.

Peter Jok scored 27 points to lead Iowa, including a decisive 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 46 seconds to play after Minnesota had fought back to within 66-64.

“I wanted the ball in my hand in that situation, in clutch time. I live for those moments," Jok said. "When we ran the play, I knew it was going to back to me. I was just ready to shoot no matter what.”

Jok was great Sunday, but it was three good minutes from Jarrod Uthoff that began to turn this one around.

Uthoff’s first half epitomized Iowa’s. One of two leading candidates for Big Ten player of the year, Uthoff missed his first seven shots — several rattling in-and-out — as the Hawkeyes trailed a team that hasn’t won a game since Dec. 16 against Chicago State.

“Oh my goodness, why didn’t they go in? Because they felt good," Uthoff said he was thinking. "Looked good the whole way.”

But Uthoff used his 6-foot-9 frame to change the momentum, spinning inside for his first basket — and a 27-26 Iowa lead — with 3:03 left in the first half. He followed with another inside bucket 25 seconds later. On the other end, he swatted back-to-back shot attempts by Minnesota freshman Jordan Murphy.

And then he really brought the house down by launching a shot from an estimated 28 feet — closer to the Tiger Hawk logo at midcourt than the 3-point line — that hit nothing but net.

“I missed all the easy ones. I made the hard one," Uthoff said. "Go figure.”

Uthoff wound up hitting his final four shots of the first half, scoring nine consecutive Hawkeye points, restoring order and a 34-28 halftime lead. It was Iowa’s biggest lead of the first half, which seemed like a victory even though the Gophers (6-19, 0-13 Big Ten) shot only 29 percent in the first 20 minutes.

Uthoff finished with 24 points, a career-high 15 rebounds and six blocked shots.

"He's a matchup problem," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "He shoots it from like half court and make it and then he'll drive by. He's an NBA basketball player."

Jok scored Iowa’s first eight points of the second half and the Hawkeyes (barely) finished it off from there, handing defeat to the last opponent to win in this building on Feb. 12, 2015. Minnesota got as close as two points in the second half, but the Hawkeyes rode their veterans to improve to 20-5 overall and a Big Ten-leading 11-2 in conference play.

“It wasn’t great, but we hung on and were able to get the win," said senior Anthony Clemmons, who scored 12 points. "We did what was necessary to get the win. That’s all you can ask for in a hard-fought game.”

McCaffery on Hawkeyes' bench: 'The points will come'

Mike Gesell tied a career high with 12 assists for Iowa, which three days ago had fallen into a three-way tie for first place with an 85-78 loss at No. 22 Indiana.

But with No. 2 Maryland’s stunning home loss to Wisconsin on Saturday night and Indiana’s loss Sunday at No. 9 Michigan State, the Hawkeyes are back in front by themselves by a full game with five to play.

With seven of the nation’s top 10 teams losing this week, the Hawkeyes will certainly maintain a high ranking in Monday’s Associated Press and USA TODAY coaches’ polls.

Up next: A 5:30 p.m. CT Wednesday matchup at Penn State (12-13, 3-9), a team Iowa clobbered, 73-49, on Feb. 3 in Iowa City. But that won't be easy, either, considering the Nittany Lions in their last home game upended Indiana.

“When you have a number next to your name," Gesell said, "every team that lines up next to you is going to try to beat you to build their resume.”