Brown: Frustrating Iowa win still a step forward

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Mike Gesell started the second half by cutting into the passing lane, stealing the ball and heading the other way in transition. Only to turn it over.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, a portrait of fury and frustration most of the night, buried his face in his hands.

"I was trying to make a play," Gesell said after Iowa's 72-61 victory over Pepperdine on Monday. "Fran got on me for that. He told me to be more aggressive."

Gesell scored 15 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts. But this was not a thing of beauty offensively at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, a venue so quiet that you could carry on a conversation with your neighbor and never have to raise your voice.

Iowa made 10 of its first 16 shots from the field, and missed 30 of its last 45. Twenty-three points in the first 71/2 minutes of the game, and just 49 after that.

"Frustrating? Absolutely," said Jarrod Uthoff, who missed nine of 15 shots from the field, including all three 3-point attempts, and was just 3-for-7 from the free-throw line on a 15-point night. "Especially when you shoot open shots and miss them."

Aaron White led the Hawkeyes with 17 points, and admitted it was ugly on the offensive end.

"We can't sulk, we can't dwell on it," White said. "We have to get better."

McCaffery said he didn't go into the locker room with a belly full of fire and brimstone. He thought his team did a lot of great things.

"I didn't go in there with any negativity whatsoever," he said, calling Pepperdine a 20-win team.

When asked about his frustrated demeanor on the sidelines, McCaffery admitted there were a couple of glitches that increased his blood pressure.

During one timeout, he diagrammed a press attack. His team didn't execute it.

"Jarrod says, 'Coach, I got confused,' " McCaffery said. "You wrote JU. I thought you wrote JO (for Josh Oglesby). OK. All right. That's Jarrod for you."

True story, Uthoff said afterward.

"That was my fault," Uthoff said. "JO, JU, O and U are really similar."

Nothing came easy for the offense, with the exception of White's four dunks, or Uthoff's one-hand jam off a pass from Oglesby, with whom he first shared a basketball court in the fourth grade.

But Iowa's defense was a positive. Pepperdine shot just 37.3 percent from the field and settled for 3-pointers when the path to the basket was blocked. The Waves took 27 triples, with just 24 shots inside the arc.

The Hawkeyes were coming off losses to Texas and Syracuse at the 2K Classic in Madison Square Garden. In both of those games, Iowa had long stretches where the offense dried up. Compounding matters was the fact that the defense did the same thing.

That didn't happen Monday. Iowa turned up its defensive pressure at just under 16 minutes to play, with the offense out of rhythm and the lead a precarious three points. Three forced turnovers started the Hawkeyes' 11-0 run.

"And that wasn't the case in New York," McCaffery said. "When our offense went south, our defense went south."

So there's progress. Last season, a lack of defense down the stretch played a major role in seven losses in the final eight games.

"I think we made a step forward," White said.

Two more games are on the schedule this week, with Northern Illinois on Wednesday and Longwood on Saturday. They'll provide an opportunity to get the offense clicking before a trip to North Carolina Dec. 3.

Then we'll get a better feel for where this team is with the start of the Big Ten season rapidly approaching.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.