Iowa completes three-peat against Wisconsin to advance to Big Ten semifinals
No. 5 Iowa rides its defense on a night when it only makes 2-of-20 shots from three
By Pat Harty
Round three between Iowa and Wisconsin was played in a football stadium on Friday night, and rightfully so.
The two Big Ten border rivals grinded and pounded their way through yet another physical contest, and Iowa, despite only making 2-of-20 shots from 3-point range, had plenty of defense and just enough offense to escape with a 62-57 victory in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
All-America senior center Luka Garza scored 24 points and Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon both made critical baskets down the stretch to help fifth-ranked Iowa survive and advance. Bohannon also made four free throws in the closing seconds to help withstand the Badgers.
The 6-foot-6 Wieskamp had been listed as day-to-day due to a lower right leg injury, which he suffered in the first half of last Sunday’s regular-season finale against Wisconsin. But Wieskamp showed little effects from the injury on Friday, especially when it mattered the most late in the second half.
The Muscatine native finished with 10 points and seven rebound while playing 35 minutes.
Friday’s victory marked the first time this season that Iowa has won while scoring fewer than 70 points, and that is a testimony to Iowa’s much-improved defense.
Iowa (21-7) has won eight of its last nine games and now advances to the semifinals on Saturday and will face No. 2 seed Illinois, and much like against Wisconsin, emotions run high when Iowa and Illinois square off.
This marks the first time that Iowa has advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament since 2006.
The Fighting Illini crushed Rutgers 90-68 in the quarterfinals on Friday, scoring 46 points in the paint and grabbing 17 offensive rebounds.
Iowa is known for playing at a fast pace on offense under head coach Fran McCaffery, and for scoring lots of points and making lots of 3-point baskets.
But Iowa’s defense was the story of Friday’s game.
From blocking 10 shots and holding the Badgers without a field goal in the final 9 minutes, 21 seconds of the second half, Iowa continues to excel on defense after having struggled on that end of the floor at times earlier in the season.
“It’s the only way you advance this time of year,” Fran McCaffery said of playing solid defense on the Big Ten Network post-game show. “We’ve always been really good offensively. Everybody knows that. But I think about the last 10 or 12 games we’ve really committed to the other end o the floor and become a much better basketball tam. And that gives us opportunities to win games in March.”
Freshman forward Keegan Murray helped spark the defense with three blocks and five rebounds while playing 15 minutes off the bench. The 6-11 Garza blocked four shots and grabbed nine rebounds.
Iowa has had a tendency to unravel on defense when its 3-points shots aren’t falling. But that hardly was the case on Friday, much to the delight of Fran McCaffery.
“I think maybe in the beginning of the year if we had a poor shooting game from three, we weren’t going to win,” Fran McCaffery said. “We’d be somewhat close.
“But to have a shooting day like we did today and beat a really good Wisconsin team with our defense says a lot about those guys in the locker room.”
Iowa swept the Badgers during the regular season, including a highly emotional and very physical game this past Sunday in which Iowa hang on to win 77-73 on Senior Day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
One reason Iowa prevailed was a flagrant foul called on Wisconsin guard Brad Davison late in the second half that led to two free throws by Keegan Murray.
Davison has had more than his share of on-court controversy, but Wisconsin coach Greg Gard defended Davison afterwards, and made it obvious with his post-game remarks that he was less than pleased with the officiating.
So there was some added incentive for the Badgers heading into Friday’s game, but emotions can only carry a team so far.
The difference between winning and losing ultimately comes down to execution and that’s where Iowa was just a little better than the Badgers.
One of the storylines heading into Friday’s game was the difficulty in trying to defeat a team for the third time in a season.
And while the Badgers had their chances on Friday, Iowa found yet another way to win.
Iowa excelled on defense from start to finish and showed that it can win a key post-season game without making a bunch of 3-point shots.
And now comes the showdown with Illinois on Saturday.
“We know who we’re going against tomorrow, one of the best teams in the country,” said Garza. “So we’ve got to be focused and we’ve got to be ready. We’ll get back to the hotel and start looking at film and get ready for them. We know we’ve got to be good in transition.”
Illinois is led led by 6-5 All-Big Ten junior guard Ayo Dosunmu.
“He’s one of the best players in the country,” Garza said. “He’s the best player in transition in the country by far.”
Iowa trailed 32-26 at halftime of Friday’s game, largely due to missing all 10 of its 3-point field-goal attempts in the first half.
Bohannon finally ended the 3-point drought on Iowa’s 11th attempt early in the second half, and Iowa quickly erased the halftime deficit.
Iowa vs. Illinois
When: 2:30 Saturday
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis