3 takeaways from Iowa-Wisconsin
1. Fran put his team in a tough spot in a 75-71 loss. Iowa needed a jolt midway through the second half, and Coach Fran McCaffery knew it.
The toughness and efficiency No. 20 Iowa (12-3, 1-1) displayed for the first 20 minutes while taking a 35-24 halftime evaporated into poor shot selection and passive defense at No. 4 Wisconsin (15-0, 2-0). McCaffery saw the game was slipping away after Wisconsin senior Ben Brust's jumper pulled the Badgers within 41-39. Then came the explosion.
After Iowa ran three consecutive offensive possessions without points, center Gabe Olaseni twice missed inside layup attempts. On the second shot Olaseni's right arm clearly was hacked by Wisconsin freshman Nigel Hayes, but there was no call. On the return trip up the court, Hayes was fouled by Olaseni. It was less obvious than the no-call, and McCaffery went after the officials during a media timeout.
McCaffery immediately was T'd up. Then at mid-court he lunged at an official, who reflexively placed his hand on McCaffery's chest and gave him a second technical. McCaffery was ejected, the Badgers picked up four extra free throws plus Hayes' two shots. Brust sank all four of the technical free throws, and Hayes followed by hitting 1-of-2 from the line to give Wisconsin a 44-41 lead.
McCaffery's blowup was directed as much toward his team as it was the officials.
"I think at that point, we were not the same as we were in the first half, I think that’s safe to say, the start of the second half," McCaffery said. "You can talk about any number of reasons why that’s the case. The momentum was shifting, clearly, for a variety of reasons. Some of which is under our control, some of it is not. So I thought if I’m going to get a T, typically there’s 12-13 minutes left to go. There’s time for us to figure it out and play better or play tougher, play smarter than we were playing. I think we did that."
"The fact that he felt like he needed to do that shows me the team wasn’t where we needed to be to win this game," Iowa guard Devyn Marble said. "It definitely isn’t his fault."
Iowa struggled to stem Wisconsin's momentum, which wasn't there until McCaffery's eruption. Only about two-thirds of the seats were full, and the vaunted student section was virtually empty. Most of the fans were in a somber mood (the weather, the Packers' loss?) so the Kohl Center wasn't its usual home-court advantage. But McCaffery's ejection excited the fans, which in turn energized the players. After sinking five of six free throws, Wisconsin then scored on six consecutive possessions to take an eight-point lead.
The lapse hurt Iowa primarily on defense. The Badgers couldn't connect in the first half, shooting just 26.7 percent from the field. In the second half, Wisconsin shot 52.2 percent, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range.
"(The ejection) was good and it was bad at the same time," Marble said. "(McCaffery) didn't try to get both. Usually he gets one then he's good. He didn't try to get both, and I don't know how in depth I can go about it.
"That kind of changed the game in terms of the score, but I think it kind of picked us up with our energy, defensively and intensity."
Iowa did rally and cut the deficit to 64-63 with 2:58 left on a Marble 3-pointer. But on the next possession Wisconsin's Sam Dekker rebounded a Brust miss and then drained a 3-point shot to push the Badgers ahead by four. Two trips later, Dekker hit another shot and was fouled to push Wisconsin ahead 70-63. It was too much for Iowa to overcome in a 75-71 loss.
2. Making a statement. Iowa needs a signature victory in the worst way. The Hawkeyes have won big games under McCaffery -- knocking off No. 6 Purdue in his inaugural year, sweeping Wisconsin twice two years ago, throttling Virginia and Maryland in the NIT -- but a top-shelf road win against a highly ranked team is elusive.
Iowa's road collapses a year ago coupled with dumping big leads this year have caused angst among fans. In each of Iowa's three losses, the Hawkeyes have led by at least 10 points. All three of those opponents are ranked in the top 10 (4. Wisconsin, 8. Villanova, 9. Iowa State), and you can't take road wins against good teams for granted. But in each game Iowa dictated the tempo and then fell apart at various junctures.
Iowa lapsed defensively against Villanova at the Battle 4 Atlantis, giving up three 3-pointers in a four-possession span. Against Iowa State, the Hawkeyes led 82-77 with 89 seconds left before missing four of five free throws. McCaffery's technical fouls changed the game against Wisconsin.
Whether it's a mental lapse or fading in pressure situations or a timid reaction to McCaffery's blow-ups, the Hawkeyes need to be mentally tougher in vital situations. That's from hitting free throws -- Iowa missed four of eight free throws in the final seven minutes at Wisconsin -- to running crisper offensive sets.
"We just have to come out of that door right there with the same intensity that we went in with," Marble said, pointing to the locker room. "For some reason it just seems there’s a drop-off. I don’t really know. I don’t know how to get people over that. But we’ve got to come out with the same intensity we start games with. We’re not doing that."
It's possible this incident could provide a bunker mentality for the Hawkeyes. The team lacked focus in the final minutes and maybe with an "us against the world" attitude, a sharpness and tenacity could emerge.
3a. Iowa needs more point guard Mike Gesell and less shooting guard Gesell. When point guard Mike Gesell is good, so is Iowa. In the first half against Wisconsin, Gesell was solid. He had five assists and three steals to only one turnover. He dished to Olaseni for a dunk at the buzzer to put Iowa up 11. Gesell was 2-for-5 from the floor for four points.
Gesell tried to create more offense in the second half, and it backfired. Twice when Iowa was lurking late in the game, Gesell missed open 3-point attempts. The first was with about 8 minutes left when Iowa trailed 54-49. The second was with Iowa trailing 67-63 and only a minute remaining. He finished 3-of-12 from the field with nine points and seven assists.
"You look at his line, nine (points), seven (assists) and three steals, he was real close to having a great game," McCaffery said. "I thought maybe a couple times he could have given it up. He’s learning, he’s getting better."
3b. Uthoff became a footnote. Jarrod Uthoff was college basketball's most talked-about transfer two years ago when left Wisconsin and came to Iowa. In his Kohl Center return, Uthoff was booed but the reaction was semi-tepid. He played only six minutes in the first half with foul trouble and 16 overall. He scored six points on 3 of 4 shooting and grabbed three rebounds. He made a slight impact but with McCaffery's ejection, Uthoff was barely mentioned postgame.
Uthoff, a Cedar Rapids Jefferson graduate, afterward said his former Wisconsin teammates were cordial and the crowd didn't bother him.
"I didn’t really know what to expect," Uthoff said. "I figured it would be the same as Iowa State."
Were the fans as tough on you as at Hilton Coliseum?
"Maybe a little less," he said.
"You think of past memories and stuff. I just try to treat it as another road game, which I think I did a pretty good job of."