Its core players are upperclassmen, not the one-and-done guys that
seem to flock to Durham and Lexington. Its core values are
pass-fakes, position defense and balanced offense, things that will
never wind up on modern highlight shows.
But at least for this season, the Hawkeyes are one of the nation's
top college basketball teams, and Sunday's routine 77-65 Big Ten
Conference beating of Illinois at State Farm Center illustrated all
their strengths as though they stood under a floodlight.
Four of Iowa's five starters scored in double figures, led by a
game-high 23 points from guard Peter Jok, the only junior in a
lineup populated by seniors. It mauled the Fighting Illini 43-32 on
the glass, scoring 26 points off 12 offensive rebounds.
It changed defenses constantly, sometimes twice on the same
possession, helping limit Illinois (11-13, 3-8) to 34.4 percent
shooting in the first half and 39.4 for the day. It also played
cleanly, putting the hosts at the foul line just six times.
Simply put, the Hawkeyes did what veteran teams do - put their stamp
on the game early and never let the opponent up for a breath until
it didn't matter.
"There's a lot that you have to do to stay focused," senior point
guard Mike Gesell said. "When you're winning games, it's easy to get
complacent. We haven't done that at all. We've been through this
before. We know how to approach this."
Gesell flashed back to two seasons ago, when Iowa (19-4, 10-1) was
ranked in the top 10 and contending for a high seed in the NCAA
Tournament. Then it lost seven straight games and wound up losing a
play-in game to Tennessee, hacking up a double-figure lead in the
This group and these players don't appear to be susceptible to a
repeat fade pattern. Conference Player of the Year candidate Jarrod
Uthoff, a senior forward, notched 18 points and 12 rebounds for his
sixth career double-double despite making only 7 of 17 shots.
Center Adam Woodbury crafted his own double-double of 10 points and
14 rebounds, while guard Anthony Clemmons chipped in 10 points and
"You look at this group, they all played as freshmen," Hawkeyes
coach Fran McCaffery said. "It's one thing to say you're a senior,
but these guys have all played. They've made mistakes, they've had
great games. There's nothing they haven't seen."
They sure didn't see or exhibit any panic in this one, even during a
stretch of more than five minutes in the second half when they
didn't score. But by the time Jok ended that with a layup off
Woodbury's offensive board, Iowa still led 67-53.
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The Illini, coming off a 110-101 triple overtime win Wednesday night
at Rutgers, didn't get enough production from their top players. Big
Ten scoring leader Malcolm Hill, a junior forward averaging 19.1
points, managed just 14 while dealing with foul trouble after
Second-leading scorer Kendrick Nunn, a junior guard hitting for 17.3
per game, made only 2 of 13 shots while playing through a hip injury
and finished with six points.
"It looked like he was out of rhythm," Illinois coach John Groce
said of Nunn. "He worked hard after the game Wednesday night to get
his body back to where he could play. But we played a very
well-connected team today. They play the game the right way."
Freshman guard Jalen Coleman-Lands canned five 3-pointers and paced
the Illini with 17 points. Junior center Maverick Morgan contributed
None of those numbers mattered, not after the Hawkeyes pushed their
lead to 20 with 11:24 left on a 3-pointer by reserve forward Dom
Uhl. Even with their scoring drought, they only had to keep it
between the lines to steer this latest win across the finish line.
"We didn't panic on offense," McCaffery said. "All we had to do is
get enough baskets at that point to get home."
NOTES: Illinois F Michael Finke (knee) returned to action after
missing Wednesday night's triple-overtime win at Rutgers, although
he didn't start. ... Iowa entered Sunday's game as the only Division
I team ranked in the top 15 in offensive (5th) and defensive
efficiency (12th). ... Hawkeyes G Mike Gesell finished the day with
eight points, leaving him two shy of 1,000 for his career.
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