Nov. 29, 2013
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NASSAU, Bahamas — The Hawkeyes’ recipe for success — 22 assists on 31 field goals and just five turnovers — has the University of Iowa men’s basketball team playing for a title in paradise.
The Hawkeyes blasted UTEP, 89-53, Friday night in the second round of Battle 4 Atlantis to advance to Saturday’s championship game against either No. 2/2 Kansas or Villanova.
“Very few times in your life do you get to play for a championship,” said UI head coach Fran McCaffery. “I won’t let that go unnoticed for our guys. (Whoever we’re playing) we’re going to be playing a team with an incredible national reputation. If we aspire to be consistently among that group then we need to play well against those teams and ultimately win those games.
“It is a great opportunity for us to be challenged this early in our schedule against a really good team.”
The Hawkeyes had four players finish in double figures and 11 player score against the Miners. Junior Aaron White paced the team with 17 points, making 5-of-6 attempts from the floor and all seven free throws. Senior Zach McCabe and freshman Peter Jok both scored 14 points, while senior Melsahn Basabe made 5-of-8 shots en route to 10 points while grabbing seven rebounds.
“It was fun out there with everyone making baskets and cheering for each other,” said McCabe. “We got our guys to come in off the bench and play, and we had great defensive intensity the whole game.”
Sophomore Jarrod Uthoff scored eight points — all in the first half — and grabbed a team-best 10 rebounds.
Iowa finished the game shooting 52.5 percent (31-of-59) from the floor after making nearly 60 percent of its shots in the opening half. The Hawkeyes made nine 3-pointers in 16 attempts (56.3 percent) and went 18-of-22 (81.8 percent from the free throw stripe.
“That was about as well as we’ve played because we played a good team,” said McCaffery. “This is a team that beat Tennessee last night and a team that has a chance to be good.”
Iowa displayed team basketball at its finest, tallying an assist on all but nine of its makes in the game while committing just five turnovers.
“The way we distributed the ball, that shows you that your transition game is working,” said McCaffery. “Guys are finishing, whether it was Zach’s dunk or someone else.”
The Hawkeyes’ defense caused fits for the Miners. UTEP shot just 34.6 percent (18-of-52) from the floor and 22.7 percent (5-of-22) from 3-point land. Iowa finished the contest with a +22 advantage on the glass (46-24), and UTEP’s Julian Washburn was only player in double figures, finishing with 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
“We felt like if we could hold them to a low number (field goal percentage), we could get our transition game going,” said McCaffery. “That’s exactly what happened.”
UTEP led 5-4 a little more than three minutes into the game before Iowa reeled off 13-straight points to take a 17-5 advantage. White and Basabe scored the first 10 points of the spurt before freshman Mike Gesell drained a 3-pointer to push the lead to 12 with 13:16 to go in the half.
Leading 22-12 at the 11-minute mark, the Hawkeyes blew the game open by scoring 13-of-16 points to push the advantage to 35-15. Iowa was clicking on all cylinders and it resulted in the Hawkeyes taking a 47-22 lead into the break.
Iowa shot a staggering 58.6 percent (17-of-29) from the floor and made 5-of-8 3-point attempts and 8-of-10 free throws. UTEP made just nine first half field goals in 28 attempts and went 2-of-13 from long range and 2-of-9 from the charity stripe.
The Hawkeyes continued overmatching UTEP in half two, pushing its lead to 60-27 on a pair of White free throws four minutes into the second half. Iowa stretched its advantage to a game-high 38 points (77-39) at the 8:23 mark on a 3-pointer by McCabe, which allowed the team to play its extended bench the final four minutes.
The Hawkeyes (7-0) will face the winner of the Villanova/Kansas game Saturday at 8:30 p.m. (CT). The game will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network.