Badgers have to avoid Hawkeyes’ best shot
Yet those hopes could be history before No. 16 UW (20-7, 9-5 Big Ten) travels to Columbus.
The Badgers will need a strong effort to defeat Iowa (14-13, 6-8) at 8 p.m. today in Iowa City, and no UW fan should be surprised if the Hawkeyes win to go 2-0 against UW in the regular season for the first time since the 1994-’95 season.
“They’re a good team,” UW coach Bo Ryan said of the Hawkeyes, who handed UW a 72-65 defeat at the Kohl Center on Dec. 31 and are 12-5 at home this season. “When they played us they made shots. They did a good job of taking some things away from us (offensively).
“I thought they were a very good team then, and I think they’re a very good team now. Just like most of the teams in the Big Ten every night.”
Most analysts consider No. 23 Indiana (20-7, 8-7), in fifth place in the Big Ten, a good team.
Yet Iowa snapped the Hoosiers’ three-game winning streak with a 78-66 victory Sunday in Iowa City in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
Iowa, which led by 19 points in the second half, limited the Hoosiers to 37.7 percent shooting, blocked seven shots, shot 50 percent from three-point range and had four players score in double figures, led by senior guard Matt Gatens with 30 points.
“They crushed Indiana,” said UW assistant Gary Close, who compiled the scouting report this week on the Hawkeyes. “That was not a fluke, and it wasn’t a fluke up here. When they’re defending and knocking shots down, they’re good.”
UW’s players learned on New Year’s Eve the Hawkeyes under second-year coach Fran McCaffery are better than last season when they finished 4-14 in the league and 11-20 overall and better than they ever were in three seasons under Todd Lickliter, who compiled a 15-39 Big Ten record.
Iowa, which took UW into overtime in Iowa City last season before falling by three points, shot 57.7 percent in the second half (15 of 26) in beating UW at the Kohl Center. The Hawkeyes’ point totals for the second half (41) and the game (72) remain opponent highs this year.
UW entered the game shooting 41 percent from three-point range but hit just 3 of 28 attempts (10.7 percent). The Hawkeyes burned UW with 14 fast-break points, scoring off misses and made baskets, and their reserves outscored UW’s reserves, 37-16.
“We need to do a better job slowing them down and making them play in the half court,” UW guard Josh Gasser said. “Missing threes tends to get long rebounds and a team like that just thrives off it, trying to get out in the open court and get numbers—3-on-2 or 2-on-1.
“But at the same time shots aren’t always going to fall, so you’ve got to find other ways to stop them.
“That starts with getting back and protecting the rim.”
Under Lickliter, Iowa endured the worst three-year stretch in the history of the program, a 38-58 overall mark.
McCaffery has upgraded the talent, increased the depth and has the Hawkeyes playing hard on both ends of the court.
Eight players average at least 5.6 points per game, including three in double figures. Gatens, who hit 7 of 10 three-pointers in the victory over Indiana, leads the way with 14.8 ppg.
Sophomore guard Roy Devyn Marble is second at 11.1 and adds 4.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
Marble has taken over at point guard with senior Bryce Cartwright (7.0 ppg), who had 17 points and five assists against UW, out with an ankle injury.
Freshman forward Aaron White, who scored 18 points in 20 minutes vs. UW, averages 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds.
Sophomore forward Melsahn Basabe, who had 14 points and nine rebounds against UW, is now a key reserve. He had five blocks against Indiana and is averaging 8.3 points and 5.0 rebounds and shooting 51.9%.
“They’ve had three top-25 wins and the league is tough,” Close said. “So (Fran) has beaten some good teams and been competitive with others.
“He’d be the first to tell you they’re not there yet but they’re knocking on the door.”
Iowa is capable of beating UW again and slamming the door on UW’s Big Ten title hopes.