Hawkeyes trounced by Villanova, bounced from NCAAs

Chad Leistikow

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — It was just over 2 months ago that Iowa rolled into the Breslin Center and put on a basketball clinic, trouncing old nemesis Michigan State in every way.

But those Hawkeyes vanished at some point. And as their season ended Sunday at the Barclays Center, they were nowhere to be found.

So, Villanova will head to the NCAA Tournament’s South Regional semifinals in Louisville, Ky., looking like the dominant team that Iowa once was in an 87-68 rout of the Hawkeyes in a second-round game. The second-seeded Wildcats shot 59 percent.

Where did the Hawkeyes of January and early February go?

“I really don’t know. I’ve been trying to think about it," said junior Peter Jok, who was held to 11 points. "We’ve been staying positive no matter what, and we think every time we step on the court we’re the best team.”

This season will be remembered as one of lost opportunity after the Hawkeyes ascended to the top five of the national polls but unraveled in losing seven of their final 10 games. Their first loss by double digits this season isn’t how the accomplished senior class of Anthony Clemmons, Mike Gesell, Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury pictured it ending.

“Every game but this one was a two-possession game, could have gone either way," said Woodbury, who was held to one point in 28 minutes. "Today, we ran into a very good team capable of making a Final Four run and a championship run."

Iowa's seniors won 89 games, third-most for any class in school history. They helped turn around a program decimated by Todd Lickliter's three-year tenure. Under Fran McCaffery, they posted four upper-division Big Ten Conference finishes and three straight NCAA Tournament bids.

Yet for the second straight year, they were blown out as a No. 7 seed with a shot at the Sweet 16. Gonzaga, also a No. 2 seed, dissected Iowa a year ago by an identical 87-68 in front of essentially a home crowd in Seattle — and Villanova did the same here Sunday with plenty of local backing.

This year's seventh-seeded Hawkeyes, who finished 22-11, trailed 65-31 less than 4 minutes into the second half.

“They were really clicking, playing well, moving the ball," said Uthoff, who led Iowa with 16 points. "I think we got a little tentative.”

Indeed, Villanova (31-5) was relentless on both ends of the floor in rolling to 54 first-half points, a school NCAA Tournament record. Iowa scored 29.

It started with the Wildcats’ defense. They hounded Hawkeye ball-handlers into eight first-half turnovers, and they limited top scoring threats Uthoff and Jok to one bucket apiece in the final 18½ minutes.

On the other end, Iowa’s defense was “nonexistent,” according to halftime analysis by CBS’ Clark Kellogg, and Villanova’s array of 3-point shooters converted. The Wildcats buried six straight 3s during one stretch — two apiece from Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth — and outscored Iowa 12-0 off first-half turnovers.

"We all know in this locker room when we hit 3s and our open shots that we're capable of blowing any team out," Wildcats forward Daniel Ochefu said. "But I think it was our defense that really got us our lead in the first half."

Part of the problem for Iowa was that Clemmons, its best defender, sat on the bench for the final 17:26 of the first half after picking up his second foul. By the time he returned, Iowa was down 25 points and ultimately fell to 1-9 in second-round NCAA Tournament games since 1989, with Tom Davis’ final team in 1999 being the exception.

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The next Sweet 16 will have to happen some other time, with some other Iowa group.

“I told them I was proud of them, (that) I loved them," McCaffery said. "I told the young guys they had unbelievable examples of how to take care of your business.”

The outgoing seniors held their heads high.

“Our senior class can be proud of what we did," Woodbury said. "Obviously, we wish we would’ve gone further and done more things.”