Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa's loss to Gonzaga is painful, but not devastating

Saturday's 99-88 defeat is instructional for Hawkeyes as Big Ten battles start Tuesday

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Guess what. Chances were always pretty good Iowa wouldn’t go unbeaten in men’s basketball this season.

Guess what, again. The Hawkeyes should be a very tough team beat in every game going forward.

No, they didn’t knock off No. 1 Gonzaga Saturday in Sanford Pentagon, and they won’t be anxiously waiting to see if they’re the new No. 1 when Monday’s next rankings are released. But if Saturday’s game dimmed your optimism about the Hawkeyes’ season, you may want to quickly replace a bulb.

For one thing, Gonzaga is as good as it will get as Iowa’s competition no matter how much Big Ten advocates insist their conference rules in hoops. How many Jalen Suggs-types and Gonzaga-types are in the league?

For another, as leaky as the Hawkeyes’ defense was in this game, Iowa will rarely shoot 4 of 22 from 3-point distance and get beaten so frequently on loose balls, many that came off Gonzaga missed shots.

The Zags are better than Iowa and everybody else in America right now. Are they 99-88 better than the Hawkeyes like they were Saturday? Nope.

“I think Iowa is really, really good,” said Gonzaga Coach Mark Few. “I think they’re on their way to a really special year. Their chemistry and cohesiveness and character, it was like kind of looking at mirror images out there.”

The compliments aren’t a salve for losing this nationally televised clash. Still, in the big picture the experience of playing the Zags and getting schooled by them in the first 30 minutes should serve Iowa well long-term.

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“You’re playing a team that’s really talented,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “You’ve got a great coach, you’re playing a team has an expectation of winning so it’s not typically a mistake team.

“They play fast, they push the ball, they execute well in the half-court offense, and they rebound, and they have depth, and they’ve got some veterans coming off the bench. It’s kind of a great game to play right before conference play starts.”

Which is Tuesday night in Iowa City, against Purdue. That comes fast, and it’s followed by three more league games by Jan. 2.

Before leaving South Dakota, though, Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp and Luka Garza expressed the hope of meeting Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament.

“Absolutely,” Wieskamp said. “We look forward to the opportunity if it comes later on in the season.

“I think we can beat them,” said Garza, who had 30 points Saturday. “We just know we that we’ve got to play better and play to our potential, and we will do that the rest of the season. But for now we’re focused on the next game, Purdue.”

The thought that was uttered across Iowa and Big Ten country during this game was “Same old Iowa defense.”

Well, Tuesday begins 20 Big Ten games of put up or shut up. If you don’t play decent defense in that league, you’ll lose games to teams that do. Did you see how Wisconsin stymied Louisville Saturday?

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“We’re going to play a physical team that rebounds and has veteran guys as well on Tuesday,” McCaffery said.

Purdue, however, doesn’t have Jalen Suggs. Neither does Wisconsin. And if Iowa does get to face Suggs and the Zags again this season, this will have been as special a season for the Hawkeyes as Gonzaga’s coach is predicting.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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