By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – This game had beat-down written all over it.
And that’s mostly what happened as a very focused and determined Iowa men’s basketball team took out a whole lot frustration on a below average Nebraska squad, winning 96-72 on Saturday before a sellout crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
No. 17 Iowa bolted to leads of 15-2 and 21-5 less than five minutes into the game and then overcame a near eight-minute scoring drought in the first half to win convincingly.
Iowa improved 12-1 at home, 17-7 overall and 8-5 in the Big Ten, while Nebraska fell to 7-16 and 2-10 in conference play under first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg.
The Iowa players had plenty of motivation heading into Saturday’s late-afternoon game because it was played just three days after an embarrassing 104-68 loss at Purdue, and almost exactly one month after Iowa’s 76-70 loss to Nebraska on Jan. 7 in Lincoln, Neb.
In the first game against Nebraska, Iowa only made 4-of-29 3-point baskets against a defense that was focused almost exclusively on containing junior center Luka Garza near the basket.
In Saturday’s game, three of Iowa’s first four baskets were from 3-point range and the Hawkeyes made 11 3-pointers overall.
Sophomore Joe Wieskamp scored a career-high 30 points and seven rebounds, while Garza finished with 22 points and eight rebounds.
"After Purdue, obviously, with something like that you've got to be able come out there and kind of take it out on a real good team, and that's what we did," Garza said. "And we were doing that in practice and you could tell that a game like this was going to happen based on our practices and our focus going into this game.
"The coaches were really on us and pushing us to make sure we came locked in and took care of business."
Wieskamp scored 21 points in the first game against Nebraska, but the Muscatine native only made 1-of-10 shots from 3-point range.
But in Saturday's game, Wieskamp made 10-of-15 shots from the field, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range.
"Give Iowa a lot of credit, they were phenomenal tonight," Hoiberg said. "Wieskamp was incredible.We did not do a good job of closing to him. He got around us, got confident and those threes started dropping."
Hoiberg, who grew up in Ames and played and coached for Iowa State, also had high praise for the 6-foot-11 Garza, who leads the Big Ten in scoring at 23 points per game.
"He is in my mind is as good as any player there is in the country right now," Hoiberg said. "He just plays so hard. That is the thing I love about that kid more than anything.
"He obviously has a skill set.. You can't stop him in the paint when he gets an angle. He carves out space as well as anybody I have seen at this level."
This was a game that Iowa had to win in order to stay in the Big Ten title race, and in order to avoid what would have been another horrible loss on its postseason resume.
It was also a game that Iowa should have won convincingly due to home-court advantage and simply because Iowa is better than Nebraska at this stage.
That’s what made the loss to Nebraska in January so frustrating because it just felt like the better team didn’t win.
Fran McCaffery had the luxury of taking his starters out with about 10 minutes left in Saturday’s game, and anytime a coach can do that during the thick of the Big Ten grind is a bonus.
Even the seldom-used Iowa reserves had their moments on Saturday, especially walk-on guard Austin Ash, who brought the fans to their feet by making back-to-back 3-point baskets in the second half.
The Iowa offense did become stagnant for an extended stretch in the first half and McCaffery let the players know that he wasn’t pleased during a timeout with 7:48 left before halftime, and with Iowa leading 25-15.
Iowa was held scoreless for about eight minutes and that allowed Nebraska to cut the deficit to four points on two occasions.
Wieskamp finally ended the scoring drought with a basket that expanded the lead to 27-21 with 4:31 left in the first half.
He also made two free throws to give Iowa a 38-30 lead with 1 minute left before halftime and then Fredrick made a 3-pointer right before the halftime buzzer to give Iowa a 41-30 lead at the break.
"He scores on drives, he scores on on put backs, he scores in transition, he scores off screens. he scores on out of bounds plays, and that has a tremendous impact on a team's ability to compete," said Fran McCaffery of the 6-6 Wieskamp "When you're in a game where you go eight minutes without scoring and Nebraska is pressing up and causing turnovers and making layups, those are the kinds of things we need him to do. And he does them."
So despite going nearly half of the first half without scoring, Iowa still led by 11 points at halftime.
Iowa now heads back on the road for a game at Indiana on Thursday. The Hoosiers have lost four games in a row and are at risk of not making the NCAA Tournament for the fourth year in a row.
As for Nebraska, the belief is that better days are ahead under Hoiberg, but it’ll take some time for him to get the right personnel.