Why No. 17 Hawkeyes hope Nebraska uses same defensive game plan in Saturday's rematch

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Luka Garza hopes he looks up during Saturday’s basketball game and sees nothing but red.

Nebraska went to extremes to defeat Iowa 76-70 on Jan. 7, surrounding Garza in the post and daring anyone else to make a shot.

Few Hawkeyes did. Iowa went 4-for-33 from the 3-point arc in that game in Lincoln. It’s a memory that still simmers as the teams prepare to meet again at 5 p.m. Saturday in a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Big Ten Network).

“I definitely hope they play us the same way, especially at home. They can try that out if they’d like. I don’t think that’s going to work for them this time,” Garza said Friday. “I have a lot of confidence in our shooters.”

Nebraska (7-15, 2-9 Big Ten Conference) hasn’t won since beating Iowa. The Cornhuskers, under first-year coach Fred Hoiberg, will drag a seven-game losing streak into town.

And that’s why the first outcome lingers in the minds of the No. 17 Hawkeyes (16-7, 7-5). It’s the only damaging setback on their NCAA Tournament resume so far.

Losing again at home to Nebraska would border on inexcusable.

Iowa is coming off a 104-68 loss at Purdue on Wednesday that already is providing motivation for the players. Getting a second crack at the Cornhuskers just adds to that.

Perhaps no one is more eager to take the court than Hawkeye freshman guard CJ Fredrick.

A lot was missing for Iowa in its first game against Nebraska this winter. The Hawkeyes missed 29 3-pointers in that 76-70 loss in Lincoln on Jan. 7. They also missed CJ Fredrick (pictured shooting over Rutgers' Jacob Young), who was out with an injury. Fredrick, the most accurate 3-point shooter in the Big Ten Conference, will be back in the lineup for Saturday's 5 p.m. rematch at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“I don’t think I’ve played in a basketball game where I’ve been that embarrassed,” he said of the collapse at Purdue. “And I don’t think I’ve ever been geeked to play a game like I’ve been ready to now.”

Fredrick, who leads the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage at 48.2, was a frustrated spectator during the game in Lincoln. He was out with a stress reaction in his foot, helplessly watching as his teammates flailed away from the 3-point arc. In his heart, he knew he could have made a difference in that game.

He’s confident he’ll get the chance Saturday.

“The way they play defense, they’re going to have four guys, five guys, all on Luka. So there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for open looks,” Fredrick said. “We’ve just got to be able to move, and when they’re all sitting in the paint, screen them in and deliver nice passes on point and knock them down this time.”

Garza is drawing attention everywhere these days as he averages 23.2 points per game. He has surpassed 20 in each of his last eight. The last time he was held below that threshold was when the Cornhuskers threw every defender at him and “limited” him to 16 points, with 18 rebounds.

Garza, at 6-foot-11, said it reminded him of how teams would sometimes guard him in high school.

“I'm to the point now where we've seen it all,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said when asked whether he expected Nebraska to try the same game plan Saturday. “We'll probably see more than one thing from them, just like we see more than one thing from everybody else now.

“They're fronting. They're playing behind. Doubling here. Doubling late. Doubling early. They're crowding him.”

Besides having a healthy Fredrick in the lineup, Iowa has two other things going for it Saturday.

First, the Hawkeyes shoot much better at home, where they are connecting on 39.1% of their 3-pointers against Big Ten opponents. That contrasts to 29% on the road.

Second, Iowa sophomore Joe Wieskamp suffered through a career-worst 1-for-10 shooting night from 3-point range at Nebraska. He is normally a 37.7% shooter from that distance.

“I don’t see Wiesy shooting 1-for-10 from 3 (Saturday),” Iowa guard Connor McCaffery said. “Hopefully, if we go to him, he helps us out in that regard.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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