IOWA CITY — In the wake of Iowa third straight defeat, senior Aaron White was pumped up rather than deflated about the Hawkeyes’ chances of getting back on track this season.
Iowa lost 74-63 at home to No. 5 Wisconsin, and the optimism of a 4-1 Big Ten start has slipped into the adversity of 4-4 league record. It’s a gut-check moment for a team that knows how quickly a losing streak can avalanche. But that wasn’t White’s message Saturday.
“I’m really confident in our team,” White said. “The guys are confident in our team. That’s the first thing I said when we got in the locker room after the game. This is one loss. Learn from the good things, learn from the bad things but we’ve got to get ready to go. We’ve got a good stretch coming up here, a couple of days to prep for Michigan. We’ve got a lot of games on our schedule we need to win, that we’re capable of winning. We’ve just got to play like that.”
Last February, Iowa was ranked in the top 15 and one game out of the Big Ten lead. A home loss to Wisconsin turned a comfortable walk to the postseason into an ankle sprain on a treadmill. The Hawkeyes lost seven of their last eight and barely qualified for the NCAA tournament.
White and guard Mike Gesell vowed Saturday not to let the team go down that path again. The pain of last year’s collapse remains raw, and the lessons are evident.
“I learned a lot from last year,” Gesell said. “You’ve just got to continue to stay positive. You can’t get down on yourself, it’s a long season and you’ve got to continue to work, continue to fight. We lost to Wisconsin twice and then to a tough team on the road (Purdue). So it’s three games to very good teams; it’s nothing to get down on ourselves about. It’s just got to learn from it and not let it affect us against Michigan.”
Iowa’s schedule lends itself to a narrow mind-set. The Hawkeyes’ first 10 league opponents have a combined Big Ten winning percentage of 63.3 percent (57-33). That includes two games against Wisconsin (7-1) and Ohio State (6-3). Iowa lost twice to Wisconsin and swept Ohio State.
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The final eight opponents own a 31.9 percent league winning percentage. Only Indiana (6-3) has a winning record. Iowa has two games against Northwestern (1-7) and plays at home against border rivals Illinois (4-5) and Minnesota (3-7), along with Rutgers (2-8). The Hawkeyes get their first peek at Nebraska’s Pinnacle Bank Arena and play at Penn State (2-7). Iowa also has beaten the Cornhuskers (4-5) and Gophers in previous meetings.
If anything, last year’s collapse has given the players a sense of perspective. They’ve already played nearly three months of competitive basketball with at least six weeks to go. There are 10 more regular-season games, the Big Ten Tournament and possibly the postseason. There’s no time to panic, yet there’s a sense of urgency.
“We’re .500 right now, so obviously we’re not 0-8 or anything like that,” Iowa center Gabe Olaseni said. “But we’re definitely not where we want to be at this point in the season. We just need to get back to the drawing board. I understand that starts on the defensive end and we’ve got another tough one coming up on Thursday (at Michigan).
“We’re at .500 right now, so we have a lot to play for.”
2. Dakich/Woodbury episode appears over. About two hours before tipoff, ESPN game analyst Dan Dakich sat in his broadcasting chair courtside at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and engaged plenty of people in side conversations. Iowa center Adam Woodbury walked from one end of the court to the end and neither acknowledged the other as they went about their business.
While the scene sounds surreal considering the uproar that ensued after Dakich’s comments about Woodbury in a previous Iowa-Wisconsin game less than two weeks ago, it was truly innocuous. It’s just as well. Outside of a few student chants early in the second half, there was no visible or audible display of anti-Dakich rhetoric Saturday.
Woodbury poked — innocently, he claims — the eyes of two Wisconsin players in their previous meeting in Madison. Dakich called Woodbury’s actions “gutless” and “cowardly,” which led to Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery vigorously defending his player.
With extra security nearby, there was nothing close to an incident between Dakich and Iowa fans. Any lingering hard feelings between Woodbury and his Wisconsin counterparts quickly dissipated as well.
“They didn’t take any exception to anything,” Woodbury said. “They said, ‘Let’s go play.’ If they don’t have a problem with it, why should anyone else?”
Time to move on.
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3. Iowa loses a friend. Longtime Iowa booster Dale Howard died of cancer on Friday at age 81. Howard, an Iowa Falls resident and longtime car dealer, donated $5 million in 2008 to the Carver-Hawkeye Arena renovation and practice facility, and the school named the entryway the “Dale and Marilyn Howard Pavillion.” A 2011 series of games culminating in an Iowa-Creighton match-up in Des Moines was part of the “Dale Howard Classic.”
“Last night we lost a very important member of the Hawkeye basketball family in Dale Howard,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said in opening his postgame news conference. “In the time that I’ve been here, we became very close friends. We would not have our practice facility, our office complex, the Carver-Hawkeye renovation, without the generosity of he and his wife Marilyn. Great husband, great father, great basketball man, and we’re going to miss him.”
In September, Howard donated to $1 million to Northern Iowa athletics. He also gave to Ellsworth Community College, Iowa State University and other non-profit organizations.
Howard was friendly to all who knew him and was genuine in all of my conversations with him. He will be missed.
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