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Zags zig, Hawks don't jig

BY JACOB SHEYKO | MARCH 23, 2015 5:00 AM

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SEATTLE — Iowa figured it out the hard way, but the constant barrage of made 3s and inside finishes is what the nation’s most efficient offense looks like.

In the Hawkeyes’ 87-68 loss to Gonzaga on Sunday, the Bulldogs put on an offensive clinic in front of the nearly all-Gonzaga crowd in KeyArena.

Be it from inside or outside, Iowa couldn’t find an answer for the nation’s seventh-highest scoring offense. The Hawkeyes tried zone. They tried man. They tried to pack it in or guard the perimeter. But all attempts fell flat.

“They have weapons any way you look at it,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “You can trap the ball screen; they got shooters, they can throw it inside. They can drive the ball. They share the ball. They’re willing passers.”

If the start of the game was any sign, Iowa was in for a long game. In the first possession of the contest, Kyle Wiltjer hit a 3 to give Gonzaga its first lead of the game.

The Zags did not give up that lead for the entire 40 minutes.

They picked apart the Hawkeye defense in the first half, shooting 62.1 percent from the field and 70 percent from 3-point range. For the game, Gonzaga shot 61.5 percent from the floor.

Iowa’s offense held its own — it shot 46.5 percent — but Gonzaga’s offense and Iowa’s turnovers kept the Hawkeyes in a constant game of catch-up, which continued until the final buzzer.

“They have weapons at all five positions,” point guard Mike Gesell said. “They got a very good point guard, they got bigs, and they got wings who can shoot it. They got all the pieces. So, they’re a tough team to guard and a tough matchup.”

Even when Iowa was producing offensively, its huddles during time-outs rang with the insistence that it needed stops.

As it had all season, the team’s identity was on defense. 

Those stops came early in the second half, and with 17:35 left in the game, the Hawkeyes trailed by 11 points, a sizeable but manageable gap. But Kevin Pangos hit a 3, and then a pair of Bulldog free throws extinguished the threat.

That was the story of the second half. Every time Iowa sniffed getting the game within single digits, Gonzaga went on a run of its own, putting the game out of reach until Iowa went on another run.

When Iowa cut the lead to 11 with 12:24 left, Gonzaga scored 4-straight points.

When Iowa was within 11 points again, this time with 10:50 left in the game, Gonzaga rattled off a 9-0 run to push the lead to 20.

It just wasn’t Iowa’s night.

“We obviously got down into a hole, and you don’t want to do that,” McCaffery said. “They started getting comfortable shooting the ball, and that was unfortunate.”

Iowa got what it expected out of his main offensive threats. Jarrod Uthoff finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds; Aaron White scored 19 points and is now the Big Ten’s all-time leader in free throws made, a record he set in his final game in a Hawkeye uniform.

But with just 10 free-throws shot all game — seven of which were made — Iowa failed to establish much of an inside presence against the equally matched frontline of Gonzaga.

“It’s so hard to talk about right after your season ends,” White said. “You’re so disappointed at this outcome, how we didn’t play tonight, but you look back over the four years, and what coach has given to me and given to guys on this team is something amazing. I’m just so thankful for the opportunity.”

Just two nights before this loss, the Iowa program took a step forward in the right direction when it beat Davidson.

It was the first tournament win for Iowa since 2001 and another step in McCaffery’s rebuilding project of the program.

On Sunday night, it ran into a better team. And while the win against Davidson was a step forward, Iowa just wasn’t ready to make a leap.

“I think that’s the thing that impresses me the most about this class is they were willing to, to some degree, believe in me and my staff, but I think more so believe in themselves that when we’re there, we’re going to go to the NCAA Tournament, because we’re going to prepare, and we’re going to work, and we’re going to recruit people in the next class, which they did, and then the next class, which they did,” McCaffery said. “And that’s how you build a program.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa men’s basketball team.


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