IOWA CITY, Ia. — The box score tells one story: Dom Uhl had two points and four rebounds in 20 minutes of play as Iowa downed Northern Iowa 69-46 Saturday.
That doesn’t seem like much to get excited about for a junior forward who started the Hawkeyes’ first six games of the season.
A closer look reveals what Iowa coach Fran McCaffery saw from Uhl: An activity level that hasn’t always been present this season, particularly on defense. Uhl was one of a sequence of Hawkeye defenders who helped limit Panthers star Jeremy Morgan to 4-of-13 shooting.
“He was terrific. You look at his line and you don’t think he had an impact,” McCaffery said Monday on a teleconference. “Dom’s bigger (6-foot-9) and was able to move his feet and was committed to working hard to do that. At the same time, he’s making plays for other people off the dribble. He was moving the ball. … I’m just really proud of him and he’s an integral part of what we’re trying to do.”
Being integrated into the Iowa lineup is more difficult these days, particularly for veteran players such as Uhl. Freshmen Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss and Cordell Pemsl have earned spots in the starting lineup, with another rookie, Tyler Cook, on the verge of returning from injury and eating up an average of 26 minutes per game.
“We’ve just been really patient with him because we don’t want this to come back on him,” McCaffery said of Cook, who has missed three weeks after surgery to repair a broken right index finger. “He’ll do some stuff (Monday) at practice and then we’ll see how he is and make a game-time decision on that.”
That has left Uhl — and sophomores Brady Ellingson and Christian Williams — to fill new roles as part of a supporting cast. The results have been mixed for the trio, but they get two more chances in the nonconference season to make their case for playing time before the Big Ten slate begins Dec. 28 at Purdue.
Iowa (6-5) hosts North Dakota at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Big Ten Network). A home game with Delaware State follows on Thursday before a five-day Christmas break.
Uhl is averaging five points and four rebounds in 18 minutes of action this year. He hasn’t gotten his 3-point stroke down yet — making just 5-of-23 from the arc — and hasn’t always looked as aggressive as he did Saturday. That’s what was so encouraging to McCaffery, because a motivated Uhl gives the Hawkeyes an athletic presence that they need.
The same goes for Williams, a lanky 6-5 guard who started the year running the point before Bohannon emerged. Lately, Williams has been coming off the bench when needed for defense or to give Bohannon a breather. He’s been playing on the wing more often, as well.
“They’re both professional guys. They are ready to produce any way they can,” McCaffery said of Williams and Ellingson. “There’s times we’ll need (Williams’) defense, his length. And little by little he’s gaining confidence in his ability to create offense either for himself or other people.
“They’re a part of a team that’s pretty deep. I really like our personnel and we’ve got a very professional attitude in that locker room.”
Williams is averaging 2.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and is second on the team with 2.6 assists. He has committed only 11 turnovers, which is a number that pleases McCaffery.
Ellingson, a shooting guard, is averaging five points and has made 11-of-20 3-pointers. McCaffery noted that he has enough confidence in Ellingson that he was one of the players on the court at the end of Iowa’s 78-64 win over Iowa State on Dec. 8.
So all three players figure to have a say in whatever Iowa’s fate is this season. More days like Uhl had Saturday could increase that role, however.
On Tuesday, they’ll get their chance against a North Dakota team with plenty of connections to the Hawkeyes. The Fighting Hawks (5-4) are coached by Brian Jones, who was an Iowa assistant under Steve Alford. Former Hawkeyes guard Jeff Horner — the school's all-time assists leader with 612 — is on Jones’ staff, after coaching current Iowa star guard Peter Jok at West Des Moines Valley.
Three Fighting Hawk players are native Iowans: Billy Brown of Spirit Lake, and Marlon Stewart and Cortez Seales of Eldridge,
North Dakota’s leading scorer, Quinton Hooker (17.1 points per game), is the older brother of Hawkeye football player Amani Hooker.
“He’s got a toughness about him that I really like. He’s got versatility,” McCaffery said of Hooker.