By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With everything that was said by the Iowa players after Tuesday’s victory in overtime against Indiana, one quote from Christian Williams clearly stood out to me.
Iowa’s sophomore point guard was asked about playing together with fellow point guard Jordan Bohannon near the end of the Indiana game.
That rarely has happened this season, which continues on Saturday with a game at Maryland, but it now could be an option with the 6-foot-6 Williams playing better on offense and defense.
"Actually, Jordan when we got out there he passed the ball to me for a fastbreak and he actually said it's about time we're playing together," Williams said. "It was kind of rewarding to hear that because we've got two point guards out there on the floor."
Until recently, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery didn’t have reason to play Williams and Bohannon at the same time.
Williams hadn’t given McCaffery many reasons to use his two vastly different point guards together.
The job was Williams’ to lose when the season started. And he lost the starting position after six games in which he combined to score just 13 points, was held scoreless in two games and had one point in another game.
The 6-foot Bohannon seized the opportunity and now ranks as one of the most productive freshmen points guards in program history. His ability to make 3-point shots separates Bohannon from Williams and from most of Iowa’s recent point guards.
Bohannon has made 60 3-point baskets, making him Iowa’s freshman single-season record holder. He also has scored in double figures in eight Big Ten games.
But in two of the last three games, Bohannon has struggled, at least by his standards. He was hampered by foul problems and failed to score in the 77-66 loss to Michigan State on Feb. 11 in East Lansing, Mich., and he made just 1-of-5 field-goal attempts against Indiana.
It is easy to say that Bohannon has hit the so-called freshmen wall, but the shift in playing time is a more a case of Williams finally stepping up rather than Bohannon regressing.
Despite his shooting woes, Bohannon still made all six of his free throws, had six assists and four steals in 27 minutes of action against Indiana.
Bohannon’s ability to make shots, especially free throws, will earn him playing time at the end of any close game.
Williams, on the other hand, barely shoots 50 percent from the free throw line, having made just 12 of 23 attempts this season. It is risky for McCaffery to use Williams late in close games, at least on offense, because opponents will try to put Williams at the free throw line.
Williams has earned more minutes by being more aggressive on both offense and defense. He has figured out how to use his length to cause deflections on defense, while also attacking the rim more on offense.
If that continues, McCaffery would have the option of using Williams at point guard and Bohannon at shooting guard for stretches. Bohannon exerts a tremendous amount of energy while bringing the ball up the court against pressure.
To play Bohannon off the point would remove some of the pressure and strain, both physically and mentally, that comes with ball handling, and would allow him to focus on what he does best, which is shoot.
If Williams and Bohannon were to play together, it likely would come at the expense of redshirt freshman guard Isaiah Moss, who only played five minutes against Indiana and didn’t score. Moss has scored two or fewer points in seven of the last 11 games.
So maybe he has hit the redshirt freshman wall, if there is such a thing.
One thing is certain after watching McCaffery coach for almost seven seasons. He doesn’t play favorites, nor does he play mind games with his players.
Those most deserving to play will play under McCaffery.
Williams made a similar late-season surge as a freshman a year ago. He gained McCaffery’s trust and started seeing more minutes.
The same thing is happening now, only Bohannon figures into the equation.
Williams realizes that he doesn’t necessarily have to beat out Bohannon in order to play more. There are other options, like playing together for a change.