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Olaseni proves to be clutch

BY BEN ROSS | FEBRUARY 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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CHAMPAIGN, ILL — He was presented to the media as the “British Air,” but after a 15-point, 12-rebound performance in an 81-74 win over Illinois, Gabe Olaseni was a man that didn’t need an introduction.

The junior center was a catalyst for a No. 15 Iowa (17-5, 6-3 Big Ten) team that at one instance squandered a 21-point lead over Illinois (13-9, 2-7). But his play greatly helped Iowa get its first win in Champaign since 1999.

“Tonight just happened to be my night,” the London native said after the game, bags of ice taped around each calf. “I’m just happy we got the W.”

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The double-double over the Illini was Olaseni’s fourth of his relatively young basketball career and marked career-highs in points and rebounds for the backup center. He was perhaps most noticeable at the free-throw line, where he went 9-of-10 from the charity stripe.

But Olaseni really did a little bit of everything against an Illinois team that now rides a seven-game losing streak. He laid one in to tie the game up with a little over seven minutes to go and pulled down a huge rebound off a missed Josh Oglesby free throw with less than a minute left to help seal the deal for Iowa and cap off a 15-4 run for the visitors that won the game.

“Freshman year, Coach wouldn’t trust me in that situation,” Olaseni said about being on the floor late in the game. “I try to break down the game and focus on four things: running the floor every time, rebounding, playing good defense, and finishing around the rim. If I can do those four things, I think I play pretty well. The best thing after the game was Aaron White saying he’s proud of me.”

White singing praises of Olaseni is no lip service, either.  He said the biggest difference between the first time he met his 6-11 teammate to now is confidence, and that after a game like Illinois, Olaseni will continue to see his confidence grow.

“When you’re in at the end of the game, it shows your coach has great trust in you. When he first came in, he made small mistakes. He wasn’t used to the pace, he wasn’t used to all of it,” White said. “When you perform at that high of a pace in front of however many thousands of people just watched that game, it just gives you confidence. He had a career night both rebounding and scoring. If that’s not giving you confidence, nothing will.”

Olaseni’s play late in the Illinois game comes at a good time. Iowa has been searching for a player to rely at the tail end of contests, which is where the team struggles the most. All of Iowa’s losses this year have been winnable late in the game, but Iowa has lacked a go-to player to make a clutch rebound, basket, or stay consistent at the free-throw line.

And now he’s creating a good problem for Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery to have. Iowa’s roster is already crowded enough as is, but Olaseni is making the choice easy about who should play the 5 spot when the game is on the line.

“It’s huge. A lot of times in the past I’d have more experienced guys out there, go with Melsahn [Basabe] or Zach [McCabe],” McCaffery said. “He was so lively today, he was all over the place. He got the huge rebound late; it was a huge play, one of many he made tonight.”


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