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No. 14 Iowa 77, No. 21 Wisconsin 62: Here's what we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

MADISON, Wis. — Jack Nunge banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key, shrugged at the Iowa bench and backpedaled downcourt.

Luka Garza, standing in the same spot minutes later, had a 3-pointer roll from the front of the rim to the back and safely through the basket.

It wasn't always according to script, but the No. 14 Hawkeyes found the answers late in the second half Thursday to hold off No. 21 Wisconsin 77-62 at the Kohl Center.

Garza was brilliant, scoring 30 points and freeing himself up for a 4-for-6 effort on 3-pointers. Joe Wieskamp had another strong game, putting up 17 points and eight rebounds to will the Hawkeyes (16-6, 10-5 Big Ten Conference) to a third consecutive win. Wieskamp had made five 3-pointers in each of them.

Takeaways:Iowa is overpowering at start and finish to subdue Wisconsin, savor best win of season

This was the biggest of the season for Iowa, coming against a Wisconsin team that was just a half-game behind Iowa in the league standings and had a 19 NET ranking. That's the best of any team the Hawkeyes have defeated so far.

The Badgers (15-8, 9-7) suffered through a 1-for-16 drought in the first half and fell behind by 13 points. They made a strong run early in the second half to get within three points, but Iowa responded, riding its two stars to victory.

Iowa made eight consecutive baskets at one point down the stretch, while Wisconsin went into a 1-for-11 funk. For a Hawkeye team that had let second-half leads slip away earlier in the season, Thursday provided a big statement.

The teams meet again in the regular-season finale March 7 in Iowa City.

Iowa's Luka Garza celebrates a basket against Wisconsin during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Here's what we learned.

Iowa builds a lead, then goes cold

The Hawkeyes raced to a 16-point lead early in the second half and looked ready to put the Badgers away. But Iowa made just one of its next 11 shots, and Wisconsin took advantage to cut the lead down to four.

That set up a final 10 minutes that was tenser than the Hawkeyes would have imagined. The Badgers are a veteran team and they started doing what Iowa had in the first half — sharing the basketball and knocking down 3-pointers. Wisconsin made six of its first eight shots from the arc in the second half and assisted on seven of nine made field goals.

Eventually, the Hawkeyes turned to their stars to hold onto, and even extend, that lead. Garza and Wieskamp each had timely baskets while their teammates went a combined 8-for-21 in the opening 35 minutes.

Luka Garza shoulders scoring load again

Iowa’s all-American center put up only eight points in Saturday’s blowout win at Michigan State, the first time in 45 games he was held below 10. The Hawkeyes didn’t need him then. But they did in Thursday’s first half, especially after backup center Jack Nunge drew two fouls in a 48-second span.

Garza found a great deal of congestion underneath the basket. But when he moved to the 3-point arc to set screens, the Badgers chose to follow whichever guard had the ball and Garza was happy to oblige, making his first three 3-pointers. By intermission, he had 17 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes.

And this came without a single free-throw attempt. The Badgers picked their poison; Garza picked them apart.

For subscribers:Postgame Hoops Podcast: Iowa 77, Wisconsin 62

CJ Fredrick returns, makes big shot

It had been one month and one day since CJ Fredrick made a 3-pointer. He shoots 49% from that range, so that was a big absence from Iowa’s offense. On Thursday, Fredrick returned to the starting lineup, the plantar fasciitis in his left foot having relented enough to allow him to move pain-free. He has missed four games, including Saturday’s, while managing the nagging injury.

Fredrick scored Iowa’s first basket, on a shot-fake from the arc and a dribble drive into the lane for a pull-up jumper. He also made the Hawkeyes’ last basket of the first half, and it was a big one. Iowa had built a 13-point lead, but the Badgers started hitting shots and taking advantage of uncharacteristic sloppy ball-handling by the visitors.

Iowa committed six first-half turnovers, while not forcing a single one. The Hawkeyes had five total turnovers at Michigan State. And that allowed Wisconsin to close to 33-27 when Iowa got the ball with 35 seconds left. The Badgers had three fouls to give, and seemed intent on committing those in order to disrupt the Hawkeyes’ offensive set.

But, with 8.8 seconds left and still one foul left before the bonus, the Badgers let Fredrick get a clean look from the 3-point arc and he buried his first shot from that distance since Jan. 17 at Northwestern. That gave Iowa a nine-point edge heading into the locker room.

Iowa next hosts Penn State at 4 p.m. Sunday.

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.