Commentary: Individual performances not enough


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I’ve always called basketball an individual team sport. It’s an inherent contradiction, of course, but it’s true.

Think about it: Basketball is the only team sport in which an individual’s singular statistics overly affect the team’s success.

Peyton Manning can have one of the most glistening seasons of his picturesque NFL career and still fall short of the Super Bowl.

Albert Pujols can bat no lower than .314 in his nine-year MLB stint, win three National League MVPs, and slam 387 home runs, and have only one championship to show for it.

Indeed, football and baseball are true team sports, ones in which the best players aren’t always rewarded with championships.

Why else would Ted Williams never win a World Series or Dan Marino a Super Bowl?

Basketball could not be more different. Halfway through the NBA season, the league’s two best players — Kobe Bryant and LeBron James — have their teams positioned to compete for a championship. And Michael Jordan, the greatest player to ever hoist a jumper, won six.

The point is, the best players usually win in basketball.

And on Tuesday night, Aaron Fuller was the best player on the floor. He was, quite simply, masterful. He wheeled through the lane at will, launched off-balance shots that careened in, and soared high above the rim for boards.

Thirty points on 11-of-13 shooting and 13 rebounds (including six offensive).

Like I said, masterful.

“He’s good, isn’t he?” head coach Todd Lickliter said. “He was really good tonight.”

Sophomore Matt Gatens proved to be a worthy sidekick, outdueling the Wolverines’ Manny Harris for 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range. The Iowa City native made it look easy against Michigan’s soft perimeter defense.

And in typical Gatens fashion, he did everything else well, snagging a key offensive rebound late in the contest to give Iowa a 61-57 lead with 1:29 remaining.

With the Hawkeyes up one, Gatens — the second-best Hawkeye on the hardwood Tuesday — found a crease in the Michigan defense and hit a running lay-up. And to no one’s surprise, a Fuller rebound followed by two free throws put Iowa up five with 22 seconds remaining.

Somehow, the game was tied with seven ticks left, and a no-call on Fuller’s aggressive drive yielded overtime.

Gatens and Fuller scored all six of Iowa’s 12 points in the extra period. It was the best game a pair of Hawkeyes have played in quite some time.

But it wasn’t enough. Michigan had a few masterful performances on their side, too — namely, DeShawn Sims’ 27-point, 10-rebound game and Harris’ 20-point, 10-rebound, seven-assist night.

And that’s the thing about basketball: One great player can cancel out another.

Michigan 80, Iowa 78.

With five game left in the season, Iowa (9-18, 3-11) isn’t an especially good basketball team. The Hawkeyes have three good players (freshman Eric May, Gatens, and Fuller), two guys who know their roles (Jarryd Cole and Devan Bawinkel), and two players who should not get playing time on a Division-I team (Andrew Brommer and John Lickliter).

If Tuesday night proved anything, it’s that you need more than three good players to be a successful Big Ten program.

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