IOWA CITY, Ia. — Mike Gesell is quietly on the verge of Iowa basketball history.
With 12 assists in Sunday’s 75-71 victory against Minnesota, the senior point guard took a big jump toward becoming the first Hawkeye men’s player to record 200 assists in a season.
Andre Woolridge owns the school season record with 193 assists in 1995-96; Gesell has 157. His season average is 6.3 a game — third in the Big Ten Conference.
With at least seven games left on Iowa’s schedule, Gesell would need to average 5.2 assists to pass Woolridge’s benchmark.
“I didn’t know that, to be honest,” Gesell said. “If it happens, it happens. I’m not going out for any records. The only thing I really care about is trying to win games. As a point guard, I’m out there trying to engineer victory.”
Gesell recently moved ahead of the great Ronnie Lester on Iowa’s career assists list and passed 500 Sunday; he’s at 509. Though he probably doesn’t have enough time to catch Jeff Horner’s career mark of 612, he’s poised to pass B.J. Armstrong (517) for No. 4 all-time — pretty select company.
Gesell’s scoring has been up-and-down over his career, but that’s because he’s made a career out of making team-first decisions based on what the defense presents.
“I just try to take what the defense gives me,” Gesell said.
Against Michigan State in the Big Ten opener Dec. 29, he took an offensive role with leading scorer Jarrod Uthoff struggling. His career-high 25 points carried Iowa past the then-No. 1 Spartans, a victory that began a run to first place in the league with five regular-season games to go.
In a win at Rutgers, he went scoreless but had nine assists.
And on Sunday, the 6-foot-3 native of South Sioux City, Neb., hit only 1-of-8 shots but got teammates Peter Jok (27 points) and Uthoff (24) heavily involved. Gesell didn’t commit a turnover (in 32 minutes) for the fourth time this season.
“It was his decision making that was spectacular,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Had a little trouble with his jumper today. I thought in terms of being a floor leader, engineering victory, he was great.”
Two-way race for Big Ten MVP
Michigan State's Denzel Valentine was terrific Sunday. The Big Ten's leader in scoring (19.5 ppg), assists (7.1) and 3-pointers per game (3.5) pumped in 30 points with 13 assists in the Spartans' 88-69 win over Indiana. Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff, the league's No. 2 scorer (18.8 ppg) and No. 1 shot-blocker (3.0) countered later in the day with his own fabulous line in a 75-71 win over Minnesota: 24 points, 15 rebounds, six blocks.
Two Big Ten Network analysts are split on a race that could go down to the wire.
Jon Crispin picks Valentine: "There’s no one more valuable to his team. This guy makes his teammates better, he makes his team better. He is (coach) Tom Izzo on the floor."
Mike DeCourcy goes with Uthoff: "I believe that it’s a league award, and the best player on the best team, having the most impact on winning conference right now is Jarrod Uthoff of Iowa. He affects the game at both ends; he’s a terrific, versatile offensive player, hurts you inside and out and in transition. And defensively, he’s a destructive player."
Valentine (57 points, 23 assists last week) on Monday beat out Uthoff (48 points, 20 rebounds) for Big Ten player of the week.
Little movement in polls
Iowa (20-5, 11-2) remained No.4 in Monday's Associated Press Top 25 despite Thursday's 85-78 loss at Indiana, which is undefeated at home this year. The Hawkeyes dropped one spot, to No. 6, in Monday's USA TODAY Coaches' Poll.
Iowa next travels to Penn State (12-13, 3-9) for a 5:30 p.m. Wednesday game.
IOWA’S CAREER ASSIST LEADERS
Mike Gesell is eight assists away from tying for fourth all-time at Iowa.
612 – Jeff Horner (2003-06; 5.0 avg.)
575 – Andre Woolridge (1995-97; 5.9 avg.)
561 – Dean Oliver (1998-2001; 4.5 avg.)
517 – B.J. Armstrong (1986-89; 4.0 avg.)
509 – Mike Gesell (2013-present; 4.0 avg.)
480 – Ronnie Lester (1977-80; 4.8 avg.)
397 – Roy Devyn Marble (2011-14; 2.9 avg.)