Iowa excels when seeing a team twice, and Nebraska's rematch is next

Mark Emmert

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Basketball teams always make second-half adjustments. But what about second-game adjustments?

That area is where Iowa has excelled so far this season. The Hawkeyes’ two most complete games have come the second time they faced the same team.

Against Purdue, Iowa was 27 points better in the rematch, pulling off an 83-78 home upset Jan. 12.

Ahmad Wagner has been bringing great energy to Iowa's starting lineup in recent games. The sophomore forward is playing the best basketball of his career.

Iowa won both meetings with Rutgers, but struggled in a six-point decision at home before coasting to a 20-point blowout in Piscataway, N.J., on Tuesday.

It comes down to studying film and learning from mistakes, no easy task for an Iowa team that includes six freshmen.

Rookie point guard Jordan Bohannon provides a great case in point. He was hard on himself after the first Rutgers game, in which he was scoreless at halftime and ended up attempting only two 3-pointers, missing both.

“I was really soft honestly the first half against Rutgers. I wasn’t really attacking. They were pressuring me, and I had chances to attack the basket,” Bohannon said Friday as his Hawkeyes prepare for a second go-around with Nebraska at 1 p.m. Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “In the second game, we knew they were going to pressure us full-court, and our mindset that week was just to attack their pressure. We’re a running team, so that’s what we want to do. We want to speed the game up. We did a good job of penetrating and kicking out.”

Bohannon scored 17 points, making five of his seven 3-point attempts, in the second Rutgers meeting. Likewise, he followed up a six-point performance in which he missed all four 3-pointers at Purdue with 12 points and nine assists in the rematch.

That’s the kind of leap in production that Iowa (13-10, 5-5 Big Ten Conference) is going to need to avenge a 93-90 double-overtime loss to the Cornhuskers (10-12, 4-6). Sunday's game will be televised on BTN.

Bohannon had only six points in 40 minutes the first time Iowa and Nebraska met. But he’s focusing his energy this time on playing better defense. Cornhusker guards Glynn Watson Jr. and Tai Webster scorched the Hawkeyes for 57 points in Lincoln.

“Their guards really attacked us, and they were able to get some open shots. They really broke us down on the ball-screen action, so we’ve been working on that a lot,” Bohannon said. “If we’re able to take care of Watson and Webster, we’ll be fine.”

Iowa will be seeking a third consecutive win on the heels of a three-game losing streak. The back-to-back victories have coincided with an altered starting lineup and the injury absence of star guard Peter Jok.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery repeated Friday that he expects his lone senior to return against Nebraska. Jok, out with a sore back and shoulder, was expected to practice Friday and Saturday for the first time in nine days. He, too, said he anticipates playing Sunday.

“If he's ready to go, I'd play him 38 minutes,“ McCaffery said.

Sophomore Nicholas Baer would be pushed back to his sixth-man role, where he has excelled.

But sophomore forward Ahmad Wagner figures to remain a starter. Iowa is 7-1 with him in that role this season, and Wagner is playing the best basketball of his career. He has 37 points and 19 rebounds in his past four games. Most impressively, 13 of those boards have come on the offensive end.

“Coach put me in the lineup because he wanted more energy, and that’s what I’ve been trying to bring,” Wagner said. “Just going to the glass immediately, getting offensive rebounds, kicking them out, trying to get assists. Anything I can to help us get a good start.”

Wagner’s season bottomed out in the first meeting with Rutgers. He played a mere 4 minutes, all in the first half. He watched helplessly as the last-place Scarlet Knights piled up 40 points in the paint and nearly handed the Hawkeyes an inexplicable loss.

In the rematch, Wagner was part of a much better defensive effort.

“We like to run on makes and misses, but it’s a lot easier to run on misses. You can really get out,” he said. “So we made them miss, and that helped us get in transition. And we love to be in transition.”

The Hawkeyes haven’t always been locked in defensively this season. But they’ve held their past two opponents — Ohio State and Rutgers — to a combined 40.9 percent shooting.

That improvement, too, was sparked by studying film, freshman forward Tyler Cook said.

“We’ve seen on film the difference between when we’re active and when we’re not,” Cook said. “I think we’re doing a better job of holding each other accountable from top to bottom, making sure we’re in the right spaces at the right time.”

All of this talk about film study is music to McCaffery’s ears. The fact that it’s turned in to improved performances also has to be heartening.

“I still think it comes down to your total and complete understanding of what we typically try to do, especially on offense. What are we trying to do? What's our philosophy? Can we get as close to that as possible?” McCaffery said Friday.

“Let's face it, teams are going to try to not let us do that.”