By Pat Harty
For the second straight season, the Iowa men’s basketball team is 0-3 in Big Ten play, losing 83-72 at Wisconsin on Tuesday.
Iowa rebounded last season by winning its next four conference games in a row, and seven of its next nine conference games, and would go on to finish 11-9 in Big Ten play and make the NCAA Tournament.
However, that was a veteran squad led by 2023 NBA first-round pick Kris Murray, fifth-year senior forward Filip Rebraca and sixth-year senior guard Connor McCaffery, all of whom have moved on.
The current Iowa team, on the other hand, has six newcomers in its rotation, including four true freshmen.
So, it’ll have to grow up fast or risk digging a hole too deep from which to recover.
Senior guard Tony Perkins led Iowa with a season-high 25 points in Tuesday’s loss, while freshman forward Owen Freeman scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.
Graduate transfer forward Ben Krikke, however, battled with foul problems and was held to just 10 points, which is nearly seven below his team-leading average, while junior forward Payton Sandfort was held scoreless in the second half.
The game was close until about midway through the second half when the Badgers built a double-digit lead that grew to 13 points in the final minutes.
Iowa made a couple mini runs, but the Badgers had an answer for each run.
And while there still are 17 conference games remaining, Iowa would have to go 10-7 the rest of the way just to finish .500 in conference play.
The good news is that Iowa will return home for back-to-back games against Rutgers on Saturday followed by Nebraska next Wednesday.
To say that both games are must-wins would be an understatement.
Perkins made a 3-point basket to give Iowa a 32-26 lead with 2 minutes, 6 seconds left in the first half.
His basket also caused Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard to call a timeout in response to Iowa’s 7-0 scoring run.
The Badgers responded by making a three, a free throw and a dunk by A.J. Storr to even the score at 32 in the final minute of the first half.
Fran McCaffery called a timeout with 15 seconds left on the shot clock to set up a final shot. Iowa then took two open shots from 3-point range by Payton Sandfort and Patrick McCaffery, but both shots rimmed out, leaving the score tied at 32 at halftime.
The Hawkeyes only shot 36.7 percent from the field in the first half, but they had a 15-3 advantage in points from 3-point range, making 5-of-12 attempts, while Wisconsin shot just 1-of-8 from 3-point range in the first half.
The Badgers had eight turnovers in the first half, but all but two came in the first 10 minutes of the game.
Freeman led Iowa with 10 points in the first half on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, while Payton Sandfort had nine points, all of which came on three 3-poinht baskets.
Freeman also led both teams with eight rebounds and two blocks in the first half.
Krikke only attempted two shots in the first half and had two points.
Iowa normally prefers to play at a fast pace on offense, but that’s hard to do against the Badgers, who like to slow it down and score in half-court sets.
So, from a tempo standpoint, Wisconsin controlled the first half, and yet, the score was still even heading to the second half.
Fran McCaffery had to feel good about that, but it still wasn’t enough as Wisconsin built a lead and then protected it down the stretch.
Wisconsin had a 14-point advantage from the free throw line where it made 25-of-35 attempts.