NCAA takeaways: Villanova played 'harder' than Iowa
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Perhaps the most disappointing part for the Iowa players about Sunday’s 87-68 loss to Villanova was that — with their seasons on the line — they got beat in effort.
“They played harder than we did. They played smarter than we did,” senior Adam Woodbury said. “They deserved to win.”
Iowa didn’t play hard enough?
“That was pretty evident,” Woodbury said.
Second-seeded Villanova overwhelmed Iowa in a dominant first half that ended 54-29. Game, set, match ... season.
After the score was tied 13-13, the Wildcats unleashed separate 8-0 runs over a span of eight minutes to extend their lead to 39-21.
“We hit a stretch there in the first half where we missed three layups in maybe four possessions and were giving up transition opportunities,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery observed. “They were hitting 3s. I think that staggered us a bit. So you could say it’s energy level, but I think we just got back on our heels a little bit. Then we weren’t ourselves defensively. Then we revved it up, and we couldn’t score. So that was a frustrating eight to 10 minutes of basketball.”
Iowa point guard Mike Gesell agreed with Woodbury, his longtime teammate going back to their AAU days, that the Hawkeyes weren’t able to match Villanova’s intensity — even though they knew it was coming.
“We knew that was going to happen, but in a way it did surprise us a little bit, which is disappointing,” Gesell said. “It’s disappointing that we dug ourselves into that big of a hole, because we knew what they wanted to do.
“We got a little bit sideways in the first half, and we weren’t able to make adjustments fast enough to stop us from getting into a hole.”
Another key stretch
McCaffery removed Jarrod Uthoff with 13:10 left in the first half and Villanova leading, 16-13. Trying to get his star forward to the under-12 timeout? Not exactly.
“That was a situation where we just wanted to talk about something real quickly,” McCaffery said. “That wasn’t a rest time out, that was a little communication and then we’ll go back.”
Unfortunately, that interaction resulted in the Hawkeyes’ best player sitting at the scorer’s table waiting for a dead ball to check in for multiple possessions. By the time there was a whistle, 4:01 had passed and Villanova had extended its lead to 28-19.
McCaffery later disposed of his use-it-or-lose-it first-half timeout when the Wildcats took a 52-29 lead.
An improved second half
Iowa outscored Villanova 37-22 in the final 16 minutes after trailing by 34 points. Obviously, it was too little too late, but the rally did save the Hawkeyes from some dubious history.
The Hawkeyes’ most lopsided loss in the NCAA Tournament remains 21 points, a 75-54 result against Colorado in the 1955 Final Four consolation game. Sunday’s 19-point defeat — which was finalized on Andrew Fleming’s leaning jumper with 21 seconds left — matched last year’s 87-68 defeat in the second round to Gonzaga.
“I thought the second half our activity level defensively, our ball movement, our rebounding was substantially better,” McCaffery said. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t play that same way in the first half.”
Baer came to play
Nicholas Baer was Iowa’s best player in the first half, partially because Villanova left him open while focusing its defensive efforts on leading scorers Peter Jok and Uthoff.
“They were hounding me and Pete both,” said Uthoff, who opened the game’s scoring with a 3-pointer 23 seconds in.
Uthoff missed a layup on Iowa’s second possession, but he didn’t shoot again for the next 16:27 of game clock.
In the meantime, Baer gave Iowa some energy. The redshirt freshman walk-on from Bettendorf scored eight of his 15 points in the first half and wound up attempting more shots (13) than any of his teammates.
“They were focused on Jarrod and Peter, absolutely, and when I’m open, I’ll shoot. I have confidence in that area,” said Baer, who logged 25 minutes — his highest total since Dec. 19 against Drake. “But it’s also a testament to my teammates, who found me when I’m open.”
Uthoff scored 16 points Sunday to finish his three-year career with 1,298 — No. 19 in school history. His 624 points for the season (18.9 average) rank No. 7 at Iowa behind John Johnson (699 in 1970), Roy Marble (675 in 1989), Fred Brown (662 in 1971), Andre Woolridge (645 in 1997), Adam Haluska (637 in 2007) and Sam Williams (632 in 1968).
Gesell’s six assists Sunday gave him 205 for the season — adding to his school record. His 6.2 average per game is the highest at Iowa since Cal Wulfsberg (6.6) in 1976. His 557 career assists rank No. 4 all-time at Iowa, four shy of No. 3 Dean Oliver's 561.
Woodbury’s three rebounds Sunday were enough to clinch the Big Ten’s rebounding title. He averaged 8.3 boards in 33 games, edging Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan (8.2) and Michigan State’s Matt Costello (8.2). No other active player could realistically catch Woodbury.
Eighty percent of Iowa’s starting five won’t be back next season. The one remaining is second-team all-Big Ten guard Jok, who has gotten used to being a marked man. Next season, assuming he returns to Iowa, he’ll be the man.
“For sure, I’m ready for that, to be in that position,” Jok said. “We need other guys to step up, too, because it’s not going to be a one-man show.”
It’s possible for Jok to explore going to the NBA early, because of a new NCAA rule that extends the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft until after the mid-May NBA Scouting Combine. It’s a no-lose proposition for talented freshmen, sophomores and juniors — and a chance to see how they’re evaluated before making a decision.
“I haven’t talked to the coaches yet,” Jok said. “I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.”
The final word
There was a lot of legacy talk among Iowa’s five seniors. Including walk-on Okey Ukah, they combined for 3,935 points, 392 starts and 89 wins. They have a lot to be proud of.
“It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve made so many strides,” Gesell said. “That’s what I’m most proud of throughout my career, the strides we’ve made every single year. I wanted to be a part of changing the culture around here, a culture of winning. We expect to go to the NCAA Tournament every year. We expect to compete for a Big Ten championship.”