Iowa-Wisconsin takeaways: 'It's not time to give up'

Chad Leistikow
Iowa's Adam Woodbury fights for a rebound during the Hawkeyes' game against Wisconsin at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Remember a year ago, when Aaron White played the final six regular-season games of his college career like his life depended on it? He was everywhere. He made plays — big and small — to help Iowa break through a lull and finish strong.

That’s what we saw Wednesday night from Adam Woodbury. He raked in a career-best 18 rebounds, often with one arm while warding off a Wisconsin defender or two. The senior from Sioux City always plays with passion, but this was a new level of passion.

The problem is that it came in a 67-59 loss to Wisconsin.

“Wasn’t good enough,” Woodbury said afterward. “That’s all I can say.”

No. 8 Iowa stymied late by Wisconsin in costly loss

Woodbury’s energy has to spread to his teammates, or else these eighth-ranked-for-now Hawkeyes will suffer a similar fate to the last Iowa team to start 10-1 in the Big Ten. Those 1981-82 Hawkeyes lost five of their last seven games to fritter away a conference title.

These Hawkeyes, 34 years later, also started 10-1 and have now lost three of four and are 20-7 overall, 11-4 in the Big Ten — one game back of Indiana (22-6, 12-3).

There’s still time to write a championship chapter. There’s just no margin for error. Iowa pretty much needs to win its final three games — at Ohio State (Sunday), home against Indiana (Tuesday), at Michigan (March 5) — to close the season to win Iowa’s first Big Ten regular-season title (shared or outright) in 37 years. Winning three in a row is just half of what the White-led Hawkeyes did a year ago (six straight) to finish tied for third in the Big Ten after starting 6-6.

Finishing 3-0 would probably all but guarantee an NCAA Tournament assignment in Des Moines. Anything short of that, and that once-golden prospect becomes dicey at minimum.

“We know we’re capable of being the best team in the country,” senior point guard Mike Gesell said. “We’ve shown that before. It’s not like that left us. We’ve just got to get back to playing that way, and playing the way we know how to play.”

It was just two weeks ago, Iowa was going into a game at Indiana with serious momentum and 11 first-place votes in the AP Top 25. Now? We’ll see.

“We’ve got a great season going. It’s not time to cave in and throw the towel in,” Woodbury said. “We’ve got more season left to play, a lot of big goals in mind. It’s not time to give up.”

Michigan State, which is playing the Big Ten’s best basketball, suffered a January dip with three consecutive losses (two at home) to Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Can Iowa break out of its rut in time?

Woodbury assured media Wednesday night, this Iowa team remains “a confident bunch.”

Gesell provided perspective and optimism.

“You’re not going to go a season undefeated. You’re going to lose games,” he said. “It’s how you respond when you lose games. I think we’ll respond the right way. We’ll get back at it. You’ve seen a lot of teams go through different lulls in the season. We’ve hit ours now, now it’s time to move past it and just get back to having fun and play our game.”

The $1 million question

Somebody asked a great question of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery during Wednesday’s postgame session regarding Wisconsin having six different guys hit 3-pointers compared with Iowa’s two (Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff).

That has become a recent theme and for Iowa.

Among the starters, Gesell is 5-for-25 from the floor in his last three games. Anthony Clemmons, Iowa’s leader in 3-point percentage a year ago, is 0-for-1 from deep in each of the last three.

Off the bench, Nicholas Baer has made one 3-pointer since the Super Bowl; Dom Uhl has none in that span. Brady Ellingson hasn’t made a 3 since before the NFC and AFC Championship Games.

This is a huge contrast to as recently as Jan. 24 vs. Purdue, when Iowa had six different players hit 3s in a key 83-71 win.

“Earlier when we were really rolling, that's how we were playing,” said McCaffery, who added he should've played Ellingson and Ahmad Wagner more (each played five minutes vs. Wisconsin). “We were harder to guard. You know, Mike and (Clemmons) I thought played really well, and I thought Mike did a lot of good things, but he's not shooting as well. So we need Baer, Dom, Brady to step up and take some of the pressure off of Jarrod and Pete.”

Defense and turnovers (ugh)

Like bench production, Iowa’s lagging defensive statistics have become a broken-record topic. And now ball security is cropping up, too.

The Hawkeyes have lost three of four games. In those three losses, they’ve permitted 29 3-point makes – that’s 87 points right there. Gesell admitted Wednesday that in last week’s loss at Penn State, “there was a lack of effort at times” defensively.

But Iowa can’t blame tired legs for this one, after having seven days between games while Wisconsin was playing its third game in that span.

Another factor: Turnovers. For the second straight game, Iowa committed a Big Ten season-high. After 13 turnovers at Penn State, Iowa one-upped it with 14 vs. Wisconsin.

“Keep taking care of the ball, score more points, that’s how you win games. Play better defense,” Woodbury said. “Pretty simple, honestly.”

Up next: Beatable Ohio State

Even though it’s on the road, Iowa’s next game is certainly winnable at Ohio State.

Heck, the Hawkeyes have won their last two times at Value City Arena against much more experienced Buckeye teams. This one doesn’t have a single senior, and recently third-leading scorer Jae’Sean Tate (11.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg) was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.

Ohio State is 18-11 overall, but its 10-6 Big Ten record counts two wins each against Rutgers, Northwestern and Illinois and another one apiece vs. Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Penn State — not exactly murderer’s row. The Buckeyes were flattened Tuesday by Michigan State, 81-62, in Columbus.

“It’s another opportunity to beat a very good team,” Gesell said. “Ohio State will be ready for us.”