By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Fran McCaffery would have the ideal point guard if he could combine the strengths of Jordan Bohannon and Christian Williams into one player.
Bohannon’s incredible shooting range and nifty ball-handling skills combined with Williams’ size and defensive prowess would cover just about everything.
But instead, McCaffery has to pick and choose when to use his two young point guards.
Bohannon, a freshman from Marion, has been used the most this season, largely because of his ability to score and protect the basketball.
Williams, a sophomore from Decatur, Ill., is showing signs of life, though, especially on defense where his length and anticipation have disrupted opponents in recent games.
The 6-foot-6 Williams had three steals in barely more than 30 seconds against Michigan State on Feb. 11 and is third on the team in steals with 23 heading into Tuesday’s game against Indiana.
Williams is third on the team in steals despite being 10th on the team in minutes played. His length could pay dividends against Indiana, which relies heavily on the 3-point shot.
“They like to drive and kick and they like to get to the paint a lot, so I think with my length and my quickness, I’ll be able to alter that a little bit,” Williams Monday before practice.
Williams started the first six games this season before losing the job to Bohannon, who is expected to make his 22nd consecutive start on Tuesday.
Bohannon has held on to the job for lots of reasons, including the fact that he has twice as many assists (120) as turnovers (56). The former Linn-Mar star is also second on the team with 59 3-point baskets.
So it’s not a case where McCaffery is unjustified in favoring the 6-0 Bohannon over Williams. Bohannon earned the starting position and has held on to it because of his productivity.
Williams has earned the respect of McCaffery and his teammates for handling the demotion in a mature and professional manner. Williams could have pouted or complained and caused a disruption, but he has stayed the course, putting the team’s needs before his own personal goals.
“He's been incredibly professional, McCaffery said Monday. “He just keeps grinding. Put him on the scout team; put him on the second team; put him in the lineup. Jordan tweaks something and give him the ball: "Whatever you need me to do." That's a special character that he has.
“I like the way he's playing lately. I've been proud of him.”
Williams played 11 minutes in Saturday’s 70-66 loss to Illinois and 22 minutes in the loss at Michigan State a week earlier. Bohannon picked up two early fouls against Michigan State, which created an opportunity for Williams.
“I think he's getting more confidence,” McCaffery said of Williams. “He's playing a little bit more. He's been good when I've put him in. Remember that one stretch where I was playing him and he was doing good stuff and he was getting the ball in the basket and he was missing some layups, and I think that affected him a little bit.”
Losing the starting position also might have affected Williams a little bit. He said Monday that it was tough being demoted.
“It’s been pretty difficult, but I just know that coach is doing whatever is best for the team,” Williams said.
Williams said he often leans on senior forward Dale Jones for support during tough times. Jones knows all about dealing with adversity after having two serious knee injuries in college.
“I think he knows what tough times are like dealing with his injuries,” Williams said of Jones. “So just talking with him each and every day just kind of helps me get by.”
Williams and Bohannon push each other every day in practice. It’s the kind of healthy competition that both players need to get better.
Bohannon is coming off probably his most frustrating game of the season against Illinois this past Saturday. He missed two free throws late in the game that proved costly.
Two days later, Bohannon still was trying to come to terms with what happened.
“I can’t remember the last time I missed two free throws in a row,” said Bohannon, who has made 83.3 percent of his free throws this season. “It was kind of weird night. I just have to keep putting some shots up, and hopefully, that never happens again.”
Williams also has to keep putting shots up in practice because that is arguably his biggest weakness. He is only shooting 32.9 percent from the field and is just 2-of-12 from 3-point range.
Iowa assistant coach Kirk Speraw has worked with Williams on his shot, stressing the need to put more arch on it.
“I’ve seen an improvement with that,” Williams said.
Williams uses his versatility on defense to compensate for his shooting woes.
“He's got kind of a unique game that way, and you can switch more with him and he can guard the post," McCaffery said. "He can guard 6-foot-7 wings.
“That's harder for Jordan, especially with ball-screen action. I mean, I'm pleased with how he's playing.”
Speraw apparently noticed Williams’ potential right away on defense.
“Ever since I first got here, coach Speraw has been telling me that he thinks I can be the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year,” Williams said. "I just have to have more confidence in my abilities. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
Indiana vs. Iowa
When: 8:05 p.m., Tuesday
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Records: Indiana is 15-12 overall and 5-9 in the Big Ten; Iowa is 14-13 and 6-8.
Series: Indiana holds a 100-75 advantage in the series that began with an 18-12 Hoosier win 1909. The teams have split the last 12 meetings. Indiana won both regular-season meetings last season: 85-78 in Bloomington, Ind., and 81-78 in Iowa City.
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