Uthoff's hot night in Michigan restores Hawkeye momentum

Chad Leistikow

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It’s March, and Jarrod Uthoff is heating up.

That was one of many good Iowa basketball developments that happened Saturday night, the most important being the final score.

Uthoff busted out of a recent shooting slump to spear-head the No. 15 Hawkeyes' 71-61 regular-season-ending win at Michigan that guarantees them no worse than a fifth seed at next week’s Big Ten Conference tournament.

Uthoff consistently silenced the Crisler Arena crowd of 12,707 with clutch bucket after bucket, often from deep range, on his way to 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting. It was a great spot for his all-time high in a Big Ten game.

"When he’s playing like that," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said afterward, "it changes everything for us.”

McCaffery knew during Saturday's practice that Uthoff was about to break out. He saw a looser, more aggressive player than the one who was held to 32.7-percent shooting (18-for-55) during the four-game losing streak Iowa snapped Saturday.

Uthoff actually said his shooting struggles extended to practice, which was alarming to him.

"I wasn’t making anything so I stayed after and worked on my form," Uthoff said. "Shot a lot, even while other guys are stretching. Just got a good feel for the ball again, a good feel for my shot.”

And with it, came a much-needed injection of smiles that have been few and far between during the 20 days between victories.

"We expect to win every game, so we’re not surprised we won this game," Uthoff said. "But it definitely helps our confidence going forward.”

The 6-foot-9 senior was Iowa’s star on this night, all but cementing his position as first-team all-Big Ten. He rounded out his stat line with seven rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots.

But he had help from his fellow seniors who are about to enter their final postseason together.

Mike Gesell dished out 11 assists, one shy of a career high. Adam Woodbury hauled in 11 rebounds to go with his nine points. Anthony Clemmons hit a big 3-pointer to start the second half and one to basically punctuate it on his way to 12 key points.

This was a comforting and mostly complete performance from Iowa (21-9 overall), which finished 12-6 in Big Ten play for the second straight year. The Hawkeyes had seen momentum scatter after their 10-1 conference start, and could have fallen all the way to a No. 7 seed with a loss here.

Instead, the Hawkeyes can scoreboard-watch for Sunday’s Maryland-Indiana and Wisconsin-Purdue games to see where they’re seeded next week in Indianapolis.

If Maryland and Purdue win, the Hawkeyes get a No. 4 seed and double-bye — which means not playing until Friday. Otherwise, they’ll be a No. 5 seed and play at 1:30 p.m. Thursday against the 12/13 winner of Minnesota vs. Sunday's Illinois-Penn State loser.

Part of Iowa’s issue during its recent slide was a timid offense, which wasn't an issue in a free-wheeling first half. The Hawkeyes matched Michigan with 19 3-point attempts, and even though they only made six — four from Uthoff — they were ahead 36-30 at the break.

“We came out cooking. We came out aggressive, and that was our game plan — to be the aggressor," Uthoff said. "The last couple games, we haven’t been the aggressor. We haven’t been pushing the pace. … We got back to our good ways.”

Iowa raced to a 15-5 lead out of the chute, keyed by Uthoff making his first three shot attempts — a 20-footer and two deep 3s. After that 6-for-9 start, the Hawkeyes made only eight of their final 26 shots of the first half. Still, each one of those makes showed resiliency.

After Michigan (20-11, 10-8) roared back to cut it to 24-23, Uthoff bombed home a 3 with 6:20 left in the first half.

Then it was 27-25, and freshman Christian Williams converted a conventional 3-point play.

And then it was 30-28, and Peter Jok pumped in back-to-back 3s in a span of 47 seconds to provide Iowa its halftime cushion.

Another issue during the Hawkeyes’ losing streak was late-game close-outs, and this one got tenuous after Iowa failed to score during a span of 6:03 after taking a 59-44 lead. The Wolverines got within 59-54 and had the ball, but Gesell changed the game when he pick-pocketed Michigan’s Zak Irvin and drove the length of the floor for a layup with 4:10 to play and a 61-54 lead.

“On our little losing streak we had, we were absolutely terrible in the last five minutes of the games," Gesell said. "We really focused on that and regrouped, and we were much better tonight.”

Clemmons followed on Iowa’s next possession with a 3, extending the edge to 64-56 with 3:35 to go, and the Hawkeyes closed it out from there.

“I didn’t even know the score when I took the 3, to be honest," Clemmons said. "I was just telling myself, let the game come to me. And the ball came to me in a shot I take 1,000 times a week.”