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Iowa is overpowering at start and finish to subdue Wisconsin, savor best win of season


Mark Emmert   | Hawk Central

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin missed eight of its first nine shots against Iowa on Thursday, and was off-target on 10 of its final 13.

The Badgers did get comfortable for one stretch of the second half, but the story of the Hawkeyes 77-62 victory at the Kohl Center was their dominance at the start and the finish. It was the most resounding win of the season because of the quality of the competition and the quantity of things Iowa did right.

The Hawkeyes established star center Luka Garza early, and he never let up, finishing with 30 points. They kept feeding Joe Wieskamp, perhaps the hottest shooter in the nation. He buried five more 3-pointers and, eventually, the Badgers.

Iowa’s man-to-man defense harassed Wisconsin into 30% shooting. The Hawkeyes outrebounded the Badgers 41-37, including a career-high 12 by freshman reserve Keegan Murray. And, when the Badgers trimmed the lead to three points, Iowa fought back, pulling away late by making eight consecutive field goals.

“We just showed a lot of toughness,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after his team’s third consecutive victory, all of them by at least 13 points.

More: What we learned from Iowa's win over Wisconsin

For subscribers: Postgame Hoops Podcast: Iowa 77, Wisconsin 62

Garza called it one of the most meaningful wins of his four-year career at Iowa. First, because No. 21 Wisconsin (15-8, 9-7 Big Ten Conference) entered play at 19 in the NET rankings, meaning this was the best opponent the No. 14 Hawkeyes (16-6, 10-5) have defeated all winter. Second, because of the way Iowa dug in when its lead was threatened.

“This is definitely up there in terms of being able to handle a team coming back at you,” Garza said. “It feels great to have such a team win, where so many guys did whatever they could to help.”

All nine Hawkeyes who played scored at least two points.

Murray’s shot was off, but he fought for 11 needed defensive rebounds. When the Badgers tried to isolate Jonathan Davis on Murray, it didn't work. Iowa's 6-foot-8 freshman helped frustrate Davis into a 1-for-9 shooting night.

Jack Nunge was on the floor for only seven minutes. He missed one easy shot attempt when it appeared as if he shied away from contact at the rim. McCaffery shouted at him to “be tough.” Nunge then got an offensive rebound and banked it in while being fouled. He later banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key and just shrugged at his bench. If it’s better to be lucky than good, well, Iowa was both on this night.

“The way that we’re playing right now,” Wieskamp said, “we can make a deep run in the tournament. We’ve just got to continue to fight defensively.”

Iowa has held its past four opponents below 40% shooting. As for the tournament Wieskamp referenced, Thursday’s win will certainly boost the Hawkeyes’ seeding. March is what matters. But February has been very promising for Iowa.

Luka Garza takes advantage of Wisconsin pick-and-pop defense

The Hawkeyes went 12-for-19 from the 3-point arc Thursday for a 63.2% success rate that was the best of the season. Let’s take a closer look at three starters who made a big impact from the perimeter.

Garza made his first three 3-pointers and ended up 4-for-6 from deep. The 6-foot-11 center began the game, as usual, battling in the low post. But Iowa’s scouting report also revealed some vulnerability by the Badgers when defending ball screens at the arc. So Garza soon began moving outside, screening for a guard, and then stepping back for a return pass and a clear look at the basket.

It was automatic, and it caught Wisconsin flat-footed. Garza ran the play with Connor McCaffery, CJ Fredrick and Jordan Bohannon, all of whom drew defenders toward the basket and left him standing alone.

“They really sit low in that ball-screen, so they make it hard for that big to come out and contest the 3 on a pick-and-pop,” Garza explained. “So we knew we had to take advantage of that. And we saw that early on when I had a clean look at the first one. I’m a confident shooter. I’m going to continue to shoot shots. Sometimes I’m more on the inside than the outside, but (Thursday) the outside was open, especially in the first half.”

From Chad Leistikow: Why Wisconsin's Kohl Center is packed with meaning for Iowa's Jordan Bohannon

Joe Wieskamp shrugs off defenders to keep torrid shooting stretch going

Wieskamp used the word “confident” to describe himself as well, and that has been bad news for opposing defenses. Even when they crowd Wieskamp, stick a hand right in front of his eyes, he has been rising up for picture-perfect jump shots, and making them at an astounding rate.

In Iowa’s last 10 games, Wieskamp is 36 of 57 on 3-pointers. That’s 63.2% (sound familiar?). He averaged 17.5 points in those contests. The junior has always shown a great deal of promise, but this is his best stretch of play yet. And it’s happening because he is not concerned about the proximity of defenders.

More: Joe Wieskamp ready to seize his moment as Iowa Hawkeyes' leading man

Wieskamp will use a dribble or a shot-fake to create just enough clearance to launch. In the past, he often would pass in those situations, not wanting to risk an errant shot that could lead to a transition basket in the other direction. He’s too good of a shooter to entertain such thoughts, and he said he worked all summer to get to that realization.

“They’re scouting guys all week and telling them, ‘Don’t let the kid shoot. Run him off the line. Make him put the ball on the floor,’” Wieskamp said of the attention he’s getting, and disregarding. “I think (shooting the ball anyway) is a part of growing and becoming a better basketball player.”

McCaffery is drawing up more plays for Wieskamp, but said he’s always given his prized recruit from Muscatine the green light.

“I just love his aggressiveness right now. He’s going off the dribble. He’s really moving without the ball. He’s pulling right in guy’s faces,” McCaffery said of Wieskamp.

Wieskamp played only 30 minutes Thursday because he picked up three fouls. He made all three of his second-half 3-pointers, though, and they were timely. They extended Iowa’s lead to 12 points on one occasion, and to nine points two other times, keeping the Badgers at bay.

“You’ve got to come down and get some buckets and extend that lead, and that’s what (Wieskamp) does,” McCaffery said. “He’s fearless in that capacity."

More: How you can join Chad Leistikow's Iowa Hawkeyes text-message group

CJ Fredrick returns for extended minutes, and one big-time shot

Sophomore shooting guard CJ Fredrick returned to Iowa’s starting lineup Thursday. He made two baskets, one of which opened the scoring for the Hawkeyes. The other was a 3-pointer just ahead of the halftime horn that was as big as any shot in the game.

Fredrick has been battling plantar fasciitis in his left heel for six weeks. The symptom is a stabbing pain that comes and goes. Some extra padding in the shoe can help, but recovery time is often several months. That is why Fredrick has been able to play in some games, but not others. He has missed four complete games and the second halves of two more.

Thursday was his best day so far. Fredrick was able to play 31 minutes and said afterward he felt fine. Of course, he reported no pain after playing in a Feb. 10 win against Rutgers and was unable to go three days later at Michigan State.

“I thought I was productive and did everything I could for us to get a win,” said Fredrick, who had four assists and no turnovers in addition to his five points.

“It’s just the injury I have. One day it might be really good. The next day it might hurt a little bit. And it’s just being smart. (Thursday) was a real good day for me.”

Fredrick is a 50% shooter from the 3-point arc. But, with his injury, he hasn’t been attempting many recently. In his three previous games, he was 0-for-2 from that range.

Still, when Iowa had the basketball for the last shot of the first half Thursday, with a lead that had been cut to six points, McCaffery drew up a double-screen aimed at freeing Fredrick just to the left of the top of the key. He showed that he hasn’t lost his shooting touch with a swish that sent the Hawkeyes roaring into the locker room with a 36-27 lead.

 “I found some space and was able to knock it down,” Fredrick said. “It felt good to see it go through.”

Everything felt good for Fredrick, for one night at least. Now we’ll see if he can keep that feeling going when Iowa hosts Penn State at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.