March 3, 2012
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BY ADAM MEIER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — In the last meeting with Northwestern, the University of Iowa men’s basketball team shot the ball well but struggled on defense and with turnovers against the Wildcats’ unconventional 1-3-1 zone defense; ultimately losing the game. On Saturday, the Hawkeyes shot the ball well and cranked up their defense, but were plagued once again with turnovers and fell again to Northwestern, 70-66, in the regular season finale on Mediacom Court at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Trailing 68-66 with five seconds left, Iowa freshman Josh Oglesby had a chance to give the Hawkeyes the late lead, but his 3-pointer was off target and the Wildcats gathered the rebound with 3.2 seconds on the clock. Iowa was forced to foul and Northwestern’s Alex Marcotullio made both free throws to ice the game away.
“I set my feet and released, and I thought it was in,” Oglesby said. “It rattled out, but that happens.”
“I would tell him to shoot it again,” UI head coach Fran McCaffery said of Oglesby’s last second shot. “That’s exactly what he was supposed to do. And I love him. He’s going to be great here.”
The Hawkeyes got out of the gate quickly, exploding on a 15-0 run that was highlighted by a Gatens 3-pointer from the corner that was followed by a steal from Gatens that led to a run-out and a White transition layup plus the foul. That sequence energized the sellout crowd of 15,400 and gave Iowa a 20-7 lead with 12:22 left in the first half.
“We were so locked in defensively to get that 15-point lead,” McCaffery said. “Then I think we softened a little bit at both ends. When at team’s making a run at you, you need stops and you can’t turn the ball over. It was only a short period of time, but it was just enough.”
Iowa led 28-13 with 9:28 remaining, when Northwestern starting chipping away with a 7-0 run. A White alley-oop from senior Bryce Cartwright increased the Iowa lead back to 10 points, but the Wildcats erupted on a shocking 17-0 run fueled by Hawkeye turnovers. The run gave Northwestern a 40-33 lead with under a minute left in the half. Iowa shot 10-of-19 (52.6 percent ) from the field in the first half, but also committed 13 turnovers.
“We didn’t handle the 1-3-1 well,” said White. “We were passive instead of attacking it.
“It’s something different. It’s something you don’t see all the time. It’s something you can’t duplicate in practice, with their size and with how they play the passing lanes. But I really thought after we played them the first time that we had a better feel for it this game. That seven minute stretch just really hurt us.”
The pace of the game slowed considerably in the second half. Content on running the clock each possession, Northwestern managed to maintain a lead which hovered around double-digits for much of the second period.
Still trailing 57-47 with 10 minutes to play, Iowa senior Andrew Brommer sparked a mini-run for the Hawkeyes by converting a strong layup in traffic. Gatens came up with a loose ball on the Wildcats’ next possession and took it coast-to-coast for the layup. Cartwright then hit a baseline jumper to cut the deficit to 57-53 with 8:33 left in the game.
For the next four minutes of the game, the teams swapped baskets back-and-forth until Cartwright knocked down a mid-range jumper and Oglesby made two free throws that cut the Northwestern lead to 65-61 at the 3:04 mark.
“I would tell him to shoot it again. That’s exactly what he was supposed to do. And I love him. He’s going to be great here.”
Fran McCaffery on Josh Oglesby’s in-and-out game-winning three-point attempt at win Saturday afternoon in Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Then with 1:58 left, Gatens, without hesitating, drilled a long 3-pointer from the top of the key that brought Iowa to within two points. Gatens’ 3-pointer proved to be not enough and Northwestern held on to the game.
“I wanted to go out on a win, all the seniors did,” said Gatens. “This team is going to continue to battle. I appreciate all the fans coming out. It was a great atmosphere. We fought to the very end, and I appreciated that and coach appreciated that.”
The Hawkeyes finish the regular season at 16-15 overall and 8-10 in conference play. The win improves Northwestern’s record to 18-12 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten.
“I’m proud of my guys and how they fought and how they improved and how they hung in and kept believing in each other,” McCaffery said. “We had some stumbles back in November and December. They kept believing in each other, and I’m really proud of how they stayed together and kept working to get better.”
Next, the Hawkeyes will take on Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday, March 8, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“We have it in us,” White said of making a run in the tournament. “It’s just going to take that consistent intensity and effort on the defensive end that we’ve showcased in our wins in the Big Ten. If we get hot, who knows what we can do.”