Feb. 23, 2012
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IOWA CITY, Iowa – So maybe the game ball goes to Roy Devyn Marble, he of 11 points, eight assists, and a pair of steals.
Maybe the game ball goes to Aaron White, the gritty and talented freshman who scored 12 and grabbed six rebounds, including a big one in the game’s waning moments.
Maybe the game ball goes to Fran McCaffery, Iowa’s second-year head coach who has guided Iowa to four wins over a Top 25 team thus far in 2011-12 and the Hawkeyes to their first sweep of the Wisconsin Badgers since the 1994-95 college basketball season.
No, the aforementioned are all great choices, but the recipient of the game ball for Iowa’s 67-66 victory over No. 15 Wisconsin Thursday night on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena – Iowa’s second straight win over a nationally ranked Big Ten Conference opponent – is an easier choice: Matt Gatens.
All the senior did was set a career high for points scored for the second straight game by netting 33, a total that included a pair of free throws with 3.8 ticks left on the clock that gave Iowa a four-point lead and a wire-to-wire victory. The senior from Iowa City sank seven three-pointers inside his 12 field goals in 39 minutes of game action on – what else? – Matt Gatens Bobblehead Night.
“There’s nobody playing better than Matt Gatens in the country right now,” McCaffery said flatly and definitively during his post-game visit with the Hawkeye Radio Network.
“He’s a real intelligent basketball player and a substantially better basketball player than anyone gives him credit. He special, very special.”
“There’s nobody playing better than Matt Gatens in the country right now.”
The win pushed Iowa to 15-13 overall and 7-8 in Big Ten play. Wisconsin fell to 20-8 and 9-6.
Iowa won this game with its long distance success – the Hawkeyes sank 10 three-pointers to Wisconsin’s 6…and Wisconsin entered the game as the nation’s leader in three-point defense. Iowa also won because of its defense: the Hawkeyes forced the Badgers into a season-high 13 turnovers.
“That’s a very difficult team to beat. Their style of play. They turn the ball over 13 times, that’s the most they turn it over this year. They don’t turn it over. They out rebound us. We out rebounded them up there,” McCaffery said.
“We made more threes, the others were pretty even. I thought we really fought. I thought Melsahn’s blocks in the second half were huge for us.”
Iowa pushed a 9-point halftime edge to 13 when White sank the second of two free throws to move the score to 49-36 with a little more than 17 minutes to play. Wisconsin countered with a 12-2 run sparked by its second-stringers and capped by a three-pointer by Ben Brust. That bucket cut the margin to 51-48 with 12:46 left to play.
But the Hawkeyes responded…or should we say Matt Gatens responded. First with a jumper…then a three…then another three which was followed by a nice touchdown pass from Bryce Cartwright to a streaking White for two more to put the home team up 63-52.
That, however, was Iowa’s last field goal of the contest. McCaffery gave Iowa’s crowd of 14,000-plus credit for helping to carry the Hawkeyes to victory.
“The Hawks Nest was great, but how about the season ticket holders who are here every game? I’ve said it before, the loyalty of Hawk fans is unmatched. Our fans were big tonight. The place was electric.”
Gatens walked onto the court still feelin’ it from his career-high 30 point performance against Indiana on Sunday. The senior lit up the Badgers for 18 points before the break on 7-of-8 shooting from the field, numbers that included a perfect 4-for-4 from behind the arc.
His first three gave Iowa a 6-0 lead. His second moved it to 9-6. His third pushed it to 23-16, and his fourth stymied a Badger run and pushed Iowa back up by six at 28-22.
Gatens wasn’t the only Hawkeye hot from behind the line, however. McCabe had a pair including the game-opener and Marble added one. Iowa sank 7-of-10 shots from the behind the arc, and 16 of 28 from the field en route to a 43-34 lead at intermission.
The Hawkeyes’ field goal percent was boosted by a pair of thunderous dunks by Melsahn Basabe and 3-of-4 shooting by White. Iowa’s offense was a by-product of its defensive intensity: The Hawkeyes forced 11 Wisconsin turnovers, were credited with five steals, and notched a pair of blocks during the first 20 minutes.
The Badgers kept the game within reach by matching Iowa’s field goal success at 57 percent – but had five fewer three-pointers – and with a 15-11 edge on the boards.
Iowa returns to action Sunday when the Hawkeyes travel to Champaign, Ill., for a 5 p.m. Iowa time date with the Illinois Fighting Illini. The Illini own a 80-66 lead in the all-time series and have won the last six games including a pair of victories last year. The Hawkeyes’ last victory in Assembly Hall was a 78-72 win back on Feb. 21, 1999.