No. 7 Iowa falls short at Illinois in hotly contested border clash
Luka Garza slowed by foul problems as Iowa loses 80-75 in Champaign
By Pat Harty
Normally, I don’t start a game column by thanking Iowa and its opponent for putting on a good show.
But tonight, I made an exception after having watched seventh-ranked Iowa and No. 19 Illinois play a hotly contested and highly emotional game.
These teams might not like each other, but they sure know how to please an audience.
And for that, I thank them because there are worse ways to spend a Friday night than watching two talented and evenly matched Big Ten border rivals scrap and claw for a conference win.
Iowa fans might not agree since Illinois prevailed 80-75 in a game that had 22 lead changes, eight ties and no lead bigger than seven points.
Iowa All-America center Luka Garza was hampered by foul problems that put him on the bench for two stretches in the second half. His fourth foul came while playing post defense against Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, but there appeared to be little contact in a game that had plenty of contact.
So that’s frustrating from Iowa’s standpoint, even more so with Illinois having not been called for a foul in the final 10 minutes of the game.
But the game itself was fun to watch as both teams pushed the pace on offense and played hard on defense, and with a purpose.
Iowa senior guard Jordan Bohannon was held to just six points, and had a defender draped all over him throughout the game.
It isn’t a coincidence that Bohannon has combined to score just 15 points in Iowa’s four losses this season.
His struggles on offense, combined with starting guard C.J. Fredrick having missed the game because of a lower leg injury, and with Garza in foul trouble, makes you wonder how Iowa nearly came away victorious.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was clearly frustrated after the game. Rules prohibit coaches from criticizing the officials, so in stead, McCaffery blamed himself for Garza only attempting one free throw.
“I guess I’ve got to do a much better job of getting Luka Garza to the free throw line,” McCaffery said. “Apparently, I’m just a horrendous coach. He shoots one free throw. That’s my fault.”
Iowa also had a basket by Joe Wieskamp erased after it was ruled that Cockburn hadn’t goal tended on the shot. Adding to the frustration is that Wieskamp had scored on a put-back after having rebounded the shot that was blocked by Cockburn.
It seems that Illinois got most of the breaks down the stretch, and that just adds to Iowa’s frustration and anger.
Iowa hadn’t played for over a week, but it was hard to tell with how well Garza and his cohorts performed at the beginning of the game.
Even with his foul problems, which limited Garza to 28 minutes of playing time, he still scored 19 points, which for most players would be cause for celebration. But for Garza, who entered Friday’s contest averaging 26.9 points per game, it’s considered an off night.
Wieskamp also scored 19 points and made 5-of-7 shots from 3-point range.
Fredrick’s absence hurts Iowa on both ends of the floor, but especially on offense where he is versatile scorer.
Junior guard Connor McCaffery isn’t known for his scoring, but he came out aggressive on offense and had nine points before the midway point of the first half.
He didn’t score again in the first half, but his productivity in the opening minutes of the game was critical.
Keegan Murray, in Fredrick’s absence, became the second member of his family to start a game for the Iowa men’s basketball team, joining his father, Kenyon Murray, who played at Iowa from 1992-96.
Keegan Murray finished with eight points and a team-high eight rebounds.
But without Fredrick, and with Bohannon mostly a non-factor on offense, and with Garza in foul trouble, Iowa just didn’t have enough firepower on offense, or an answer for Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu on offense.
Dosunmu has said publicly that he doesn’t like Iowa, at least on the court, and he played that way on Friday, finishing with 25 points and four assists.
Iowa’s previous two games against Illinois had some heated exchanges in which tempers flared.
Both teams controlled their emotions in Friday’s game, fortunately.
The first half was highly entertaining as Dosunmu scored 19 points to help give Illinois a 43-41 advantage at the break.
Garza led Iowa in the first half with 13 points, but Bohannon was held scoreless and only attempted two shots, including one right before the halftime buzzer that bounced off the rim.
At that point, Bohannon had played three consecutive halves without having scored a point as he missed all nine of his field-goal attempts in the loss to Indiana.
Bohannon made his first shot in the second half, which not surprisingly was a 3-pointer that cut the deficit to 48-46 barely two minutes into the half.
But he would go on to make just one more field goal, and the end result was back-to-back losses for the first time this season.
This certainly isn’t time to panic, but it’s time to start winning again because Iowa (12-4, 6-3) now trails Big Ten leader Michigan by two games in the loss column.
Iowa is trying to win the Big Ten regular-season title for the first time since the 1978-79 season, and with each loss, the margin for error gets smaller.
There were some questionable calls in Friday’s game, especially Garza’s fourth foul, but the only option is to move on to Tuesday’s game against Michigan State.
Bohannon has bounced back from sub-par performances before, and his team needs him to do it again ASAP, especially with Fredrick’s status uncertain.