By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa men’s basketball team is gunning for its first three-game Big Ten winning streak this season, and it will likely have its biggest gunner back in the lineup.
Senior Peter Jok, who missed the last two games with an ailing back, is expected to return against Nebraska on Sunday. The game is set for a 1:06 p.m. (CT) start on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I am going to practice today and tomorrow,” said Jok, Iowa’s leading scorer at 21.0 points per game. “If I feel good, I’ll be out there Sunday. It was good to take the time off to get better with my back and get back into it mentally.”
The trick for the Hawkeyes will be re-inserting Jok back into a lineup that has been playing well in his absence. Iowa is coming off consecutive victories over Ohio State (85-72) and Rutgers (83-63). The win in Piscataway, New Jersey, was the team’s first true road victory of the season.
Iowa won with a collective team effort. Five Hawkeyes reached double figures in the two games and Iowa had back-to-back games with 20-plus assists, including 24 at Rutgers — the most for the team since the second game of the season.
“We were not focusing on getting one person the ball,” said freshman Tyler Cook. “I am not saying that was the case, but we were all hitting the open man and moving without the ball. We were focusing on playing naturally with each other rather than being too uptight or focusing on things too much.
“We’re more relaxed right now, and I think that will continue with Pete coming back.”
Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery believes it will be a smooth transition.
“He’ll assimilate right back in and it won’t be a problem,” McCaffery said at a Friday news conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “We moved the ball a little better (without Peter) because he’s the ultimate green-light guy; he can pull (shoot) whenever he wants.
“I’ve always done that — (Devyn) Marble, (Matt) Gatens, (Jordan) Bohannon — you have good shooters, shoot when you’re open; shoot when you think you are ready to get a bucket for us.
“Ultimately we’re going to do the same things and we can score in a variety of ways. Peter knows and understands that as well.”
In his absence, Jok saw the Hawkeyes step up defensively. That mindset will need to continue against a Husker team that put up 93 points in a 93-90 double-overtime victory over Iowa on Jan. 5.
“We’re a better defensive team now,” said sophomore Ahmad Wagner, who has started the last two contests. “When we played them the first time, we struggled with ball screens and keeping (Tai) Webster and (Glenn) Watson out of the paint.
“They had a big game against us. This game, I think we’re going to do a better job defending them and the rest of the team.”
Webster and Watson accounted for 57 of the Huskers’ 93 points in the first meeting. The duo averages 18.1 and 14.4 points, respectively, for a Nebraska team that is 10-12 overall and 4-6 in Big Ten play.
Tickets are available for Sunday’s game through the UI Athletics Ticket Office at 800-IA-HAWKS or on hawkeyesports.com. The game will be televised on BTN with Kevin Kugler and Shon Morris on the call.