Iowa guard Joe Wieskamp was held four points in 26 minutes in a 93-78 loss to the Blue Demons. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Joe Wieskamp was in a two-game shooting slump, not helped by the fact that he’d hyperextended his elbow while falling in Iowa’s season-opener.
But the Hawkeye star forward wasn’t using that as an excuse. He knew he needed to be a more commanding presence on the offensive end of the court. It’s what his team needs from the sophomore.
On Thursday against North Florida, Wieskamp had a layup blocked on the left side of the rim in the opening minute. He promptly grabbed that rebound, went to the right side and scored with ease. He followed with a mid-range jumper and stepped out to nail a 3-pointer. These were seven key points for the Hawkeyes, who struggled at the outset and trailed 12-9.
On the opening play of the second half, Wieskamp got every player’s dream assignment — to be on the receiving end of an alley-oop. Wieskamp had seen in the first half that the play was likely to work. He waited patiently at the 3-point arc before gliding in behind the defense on the right side, where he leaped to snare a CJ Fredrick pass and flush it home.
The sparse crowd made some noise. The Hawkeyes were off and running to an 83-68 victory.
“I was excited when coach (Fran McCaffery) called out that play because I knew it was going to be open,” Wieskamp said with a smile afterward.
“Any time that someone throws one down, I think it kind of brings a spark and provides a little bit of energy for us."
That’s what Wieskamp wanted to do for the Hawkeyes (3-1). After two games in which he went 4-for-14 from the field, he was 6 of 12 Thursday, good for 14 points. He added a season-high eight rebounds. He got active on defense, leaping out to block a couple of perimeter shots.
In short, Wieskamp was a leader that his teammates could follow. Junior center Luka Garza has been Iowa’s reliable star in the early going, leading the Big Ten Conference with 23.3 points per game and adding 10.5 rebounds. But there’s no question Iowa will need Wieskamp at his competitive best in order to manage a daunting schedule ahead that starts with a matchup against Texas Tech on Thursday in Las Vegas.
First up is a 4 p.m. Sunday home game against Cal Poly.
“I got in a nice little rhythm to start the game. I think I need to do a better job of, when I’m hot, not necessarily forcing up shots, but kind of ‘give me the ball’ and keep shooting it,” Wieskamp said.
“I was trying to come out and be aggressive from the start. I was able to knock down a few shots, get the confidence up a little bit.”
McCaffery was asked Wednesday if Wieskamp, a preseason all-Big Ten selection, was too unselfish at times. He is a player who never hunts for shots and can sometimes blend in to the offense instead of seizing control of it.
“If you try to force it, it doesn't come naturally, then it's probably not as effective as he would be otherwise,” McCaffery answered. “He's a complete player, and I think he's always viewed himself that way, always performed at that level, with that expectation of himself, and I think that's why he is who he is. He's special in that regard.”
Wieskamp is averaging 11.3 points and 5.8 rebounds in Iowa’s opening four games. Those are slightly above what he achieved as a freshman. But he’s made only 4 of his 14 3-point attempts, a 28.6 percentage that certainly must climb.
“I’m not too worried about shooting percentages at this point of the season. I’ve just got to keep shooting with confidence. I think doing maybe a better job of setting myself up to get the ball and when I do catch it, being more aggressive and look for those opportunities,” Wieskamp said.
“I’ve been trying to impact the game in other ways, defensively, rebounding.”
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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Iowa center Luka Garza was frustrated early by North Florida, but got into a great rhythm. How did he do it, and what lesson did he learn? Listen: Mark Emmert, firstname.lastname@example.org