Brown: McCaffery faces challenge of balancing progress amid defeat
IOWA CITY, Ia. – It's a fine line, balancing progress in the face of defeat. Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery was walking that line Saturday.
"You don't want to get too negative, but you don't want to accept defeat," McCaffery said after a 74-63 loss to No. 5 Wisconsin at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. "So what we'll do is we'll study it, we'll break it down and hold them accountable and go to work, and try to get better."
After playing its way into the Top 25, Iowa has lost three straight games over an 11-day stretch. It started with a 32-point loss in Madison, then a four-point loss at Purdue when Aaron White spent most of the game as a spectator after injuring a shoulder.
The Hawkeyes played much better Saturday than they did in Madison. But it was still a loss.
"There's a loss like when we went to Madison and got trounced," said White, who scored 15 points in a season-high 38 minutes after a week of intensive rehab. "And then there's a loss when you do some good things."
A lot of good things. But not enough defensive stops or rebounds, especially on the defensive glass, to beat a team as good as Wisconsin.
"Not satisfied. Not happy," White added.
And that's a good way to put it. Iowa looked like a good team for long stretches Saturday. But Wisconsin was better.
The Badgers returned a majority of their team from last season's Final Four run. Frank Kaminsky, a national player of the year candidate, finished with 24 points and nine rebounds. He's a 7-foot matchup nightmare for anyone.
Four of Wisconsin's five starters scored in double figures. And point guard Bronson Koenig, who has stepped in admirably for injured Traevon Jackson, had eight.
"That's why they're such a good team," said Iowa point guard Mike Gesell, playing with a hyperextended elbow that kept him from shooting 3-pointers. "They've got five guys on the floor who can score at all times, and they play well together."
Iowa's offense kept pace for most of the first half, shooting 64 percent from the floor. Only to trail by six points at halftime. Every time Iowa made a run, Wisconsin would counter with a big basket.
Josh Gasser had three field goals for the Badgers on Saturday. Two of them were huge. The first came with 4 minutes, 45 seconds to play in the first half, after 3-pointers by White and Peter Jok cut the Hawkeye deficit to 32-30. Gasser scored on a drive, was fouled and added the free throw.
The other was a 3-pointer, with Josh Oglesby all over him and the shot clock about to expire, that came with 8:47 left in the game and kicked the lead to 11.
"Boy, was that huge," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.
Wisconsin is big, long and physical, a portrait of team basketball.
"They understand the value of every possession, and how you finish one out," McCaffery said.
And some of those possessions extended past the 35-second shot clock, because Wisconsin had a 15-7 edge on the offensive glass and outscored Iowa 16-7 in second-chance points.
"Two shot clocks, that's pretty tough to do," Iowa center Adam Woodbury said. "Tough to win that way."
Those second-chance opportunities also tested Iowa's defense, which couldn't get a stop when it needed it most. And in the second half, when Wisconsin's offense drew blanks for five straight possessions, Iowa couldn't cut into a six-point deficit.
In the end, Wisconsin's 35-24 rebounding edge, and that overwhelming advantage in offensive rebounds, was too much to overcome.
"That's a recipe for disaster," McCaffery said.
Especially against a team as experienced and efficient as Wisconsin.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.