Iowa basketball season swirling fast as Hawkeyes drop third straight

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

MADISON, Wis. — The Iowa men's basketball team has staggered into March with its first three-game losing streak of the season.

There's basketball left to be played, but the question is: How interested are the Hawkeyes in doing so?

On Thursday, Ethan Happ and the No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers took it to Iowa in the paint and emerged with a 65-45 victory. The Hawkeyes have been outscored by 54 points in their three losses and look nothing like the team that completed an 11-0 non-conference schedule a little more than two months ago.

It was Iowa's worst offensive showing of the season.

"You have to grind it and move the basketball and set screens and roll it.  We had some good movement at times. We missed some looks that we were hoping we would get. Had some misreads," said Iowa assistant coach Kirk Speraw, who filled in for suspended head coach Fran McCaffery.

"We're a team that has good shooters and we're not shooting the ball very well right now. And that's been a theme here for a little bit. We've just got to snap out of it and continue to grind and find some answers. Somewhere along the line, we'll start making shots again."

Iowa made only 30.5 percent of its shots Thursday. The Hawkeyes trailed by 28 points before scoring the final eight, including a Connor McCaffery 3-pointer just ahead of the buzzer.

Junior forward Tyler Cook was held without a point for the first time in his Hawkeye career. He entered play as the team's leading scorer at 15.8 points per game.

Happ, playing his final game at a sold-out Kohl Center, finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Iowa never found anyone capable of guarding the Wisconsin center. Wisconsin outscored Iowa 36-18 in the paint and 17-4 at the free-throw line.

"I thought he was able to catch it and get deep post position. I thought he was able to get it in the open floor a little bit," Iowa forward Nicholas Baer said of Happ, is onetime AAU teammate. "We wanted to keep him from getting the ball as much as possible. ... He's a tough guy to guard once he catches it."

Iowa's four front-court players — Baer, Cook, Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener — combined for 15 fouls, most of them trying to handle Happ.

The Hawkeyes got eight points apiece from Jordan Bohannon and Kriener. They had 10 assists against 15 turnovers.

It was their worst scoring output since losing 74-41 to Virginia in November 2016.

"I thought we pushed the ball pretty well in the first half. We just weren't getting anything out of it for some reason. It was just frustrating," Bohannon said.

It was a humbling evening for a team that had been nationally ranked most of the winter. Speraw was at the helm for this one with McCaffery serving the second and final game of his suspension for comments he aimed at an official after a 90-70 loss at Ohio State on Feb. 26. That started Iowa's skid. The Buckeyes haven't won since.

Wisconsin's Khalil Iverson dunks over Iowa's Joe Wieskamp during the first half of Thursday's game at the Kohl Center.

The Hawkeyes (21-9, 10-9 Big Ten Conference) had their worst offensive half of the season, scoring a mere 22 points in the opening 20 minutes. It was an equal-opportunity exercise in futility, with 8 of 27 shooting (29.6 percent), eight turnovers and only six fouls drawn. Iowa players looked hesitant to shoot or drive. Bohannon’s five points led the way.

Wisconsin (21-9, 13-6) scored 31 points despite 2 of 11 success rate from the 3-point arc. But the Badgers were more aggressive about driving the ball and made 9 of 14 free throws. And they took advantage of Iowa’s inability to protect its defensive glass, punishing the Hawkeyes with 12 second-chance points.

It was Senior Night for Badgers star Happ, who has more than 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 400 assists in a brilliant career. He was held without a field goal in the first half, but showed his value by scoring five points at the free-throw line, with four rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and two steals.

Iowa concludes the regular season with a 1 p.m. Sunday game at Nebraska. McCaffery will be back on the sideline for that one.

A portion of the Hawkeye fan base is losing faith, however. The team has had a difficult time winning in March in McCaffery's nine seasons, with a 5-12 record in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, which are Iowa's two next destinations.

Bohannon, who grew up an Iowa fan, dismissed those feelings.

"I think the majority of the fan base at Iowa are really appreciative of what we've done this year. We just tune out the negativity," he said. "We're just going to continue to keep working and stay positive."