Brown: Humbled Hawkeyes turn the page
IOWA CITY, Ia. – We're 11 games into the season, and Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery already has a significant challenge on his hands.
He's got to get his team to bounce back from a humbling loss heading into finals week. And that might be the ultimate test.
Iowa looked nothing like an NCAA Tournament team in a 90-75 loss to No. 14 Iowa State Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes did look fragile against a team with plenty of in-your-face swagger.
The talent level on the floor leaned Iowa State's way, too. There's no in-season cure for that. But the energy and effort can change. It must change for Iowa moving forward.
"I've been here before," McCaffery said. "You have a great win. You have a tough loss. You go back to work. You break the film down. You hold them accountable. You don't kill them."
Nine days earlier, Iowa won at No. 12 North Carolina. It was a win that was earned with defense. But Friday, the Hawkeyes had no answer on defense — or offense — when things started to slide early in the second half.
"We didn't come out with the swagger you've got to have on defense," Iowa point guard Mike Gesell said. "Especially against a team with a highly potent offense like that."
Why does that happen in an in-state rivalry game? That's the troubling $64,000 question.
"It's going to be tough for a couple of days," said sophomore guard Peter Jok, the silver lining in a forgettable night with 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and no turnovers in 25 minutes. "We've got to leave it behind us and focus on the next game."
We're to the point of the season where there isn't much of a learning curve left. Next is a Dec. 20 game with No. 23 Northern Iowa in the Big Four Classic at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, and a home game with North Florida two days later.
Then comes Big Ten play, which kicks off like this: at No. 12 Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State at home, at Minnesota, the Buckeyes at home and at No. 5 Wisconsin. Four of the next eight games will be against rated opponents. The Hawkeyes are 1-3 against Top 25 teams this season.
Iowa's lack of defense Friday is cause for concern, magnified because its shooting touch remains chilly. The Hawkeyes shot just 39.4 percent from the field. They're now shooting 42 percent on the season. The puzzling part of this equation is that the Hawkeyes are shooting 76 percent from the free-throw line.
Jok was a bright spot with play that will earn him more minutes moving forward.
"I feel like I had to step up for us to win," Jok said. "I just tried to do as much as I could."
Jok entered the game shooting just 29.8 percent from the field, and 30.4 percent from three. He was 5-for-10 against Iowa State, with two 3-pointers in four attempts. He's perfect in 13 free-throw attempts this season.
"I've been practicing pretty good," Jok said. "They haven't been falling in games. But like I said, sooner or later they're going to fall in. I've just got to keep shooting."
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
ON TAP FOR IOWA
• SATURDAY: vs. Northern Iowa, 6:30 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines (BTN)
• DEC. 22: vs. North Florida, 7 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeyes Arena (ESPN3)