Brown: Bad loss a confidence crusher for Hawkeyes

Rick Brown

Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Gabe Olaseni suffer confidence-crushing loss to Penn State Thursday.

CHICAGO – Iowa's basketball team came to the Big Ten Tournament with a six-game winning streak and all the confidence in the world.

One game later, the body language in the Hawkeyes' locker room told a much different story. The swagger was gone.

There's no way to paint a pretty picture of Iowa's 67-58 loss to Penn State Thursday at the United Center .

"Obviously it's a bad loss," Iowa's Gabe Olaseni said. "But we're a good team."

This team will be rewarded with a berth in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. This loss, the first since Feb. 15, might be costly from a seeding standpoint. But judging by what I saw in that locker room, I wonder if Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and his staff can get this team off the canvas and ready to swing NCAA punches again next week.

AARON WHITE: We're still one of best teams in country

The team that played against the Nittany Lions Thursday isn't the team we've seen down the stretch, and it was a bad time for a disappearing act. It was a loss that made it hard to take a big-picture view of this season as a whole.

"You don't want to lose sight of that," McCaffery said of the 21-11 season. "But (Thursday's) effort, in terms of execution and concentration, is unacceptable."

After the game, McCaffery made an attempt to get his team focused on the future, even though this loss was a blow to the solar plexus.

"You let them take a step back," McCaffery said. "We had some conversation about that after the game. Take a step back, and then go back to work, and refocus, and do better than we did previously for this game."

Anything would be a step up. While you have to give Penn State credit for its effort — the Nittany Lions lost six Big Ten games by three points or less or in overtime — this loss was all on Iowa.

The offensive execution left a lot to be desired. The movement in the half-court offense was abysmal. The box score had a lot of ugly lines. Penn State scored 48 second-half points. The Nittany Lions' 15 second-half field goals matched Iowa's total for the game.

McCaffery didn't help matters, either, getting a technical foul with his team down two points with 7 minutes, 46 seconds remaining. McCaffery was protesting what he thought was a missed goaltending call on a shot by Adam Woodbury. Right or wrong, he can't get a "T" there.

Iowa did rally in the final minutes and Jarrod Uthoff had a fallaway jumper to tie the game with :59 to play. Just the guy you want taking the shot. He was short.

"It looked good, it felt good," Uthoff said. "It just didn't go in."

But it was one of many misses for an Iowa team that shot a season-low 26.3 percent from the field. That somber statistic matched the downcast faces in that Iowa locker room. Now we'll see if this team can dig deep, refuel and refocus for March Madness.

"It's a good thing we've got a week," all-Big Ten forward Aaron White said. "Get it out of your system, and realize this isn't the last game of the year. We've got a lot of meaningful basketball to play. This is something we've got to get over."

The low point of the Hawkeyes' Big Ten season was back-to-back losses to Minnesota at home and at Northwestern. That left Iowa 6-6 in league play. White organized a team meeting and got the Hawkeyes refocused. Six straight wins followed. Thursday ended the good vibes.

"We'll be fired up to play again," White said.

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