Defense key for Hawkeye hoops in Big Ten opener

Iowa’s defense looked stellar in the second half against Pittsburgh. To win their Big Ten opener, the Hawkeyes need a repeat effort.


Katie Goodale

Iowa's Nicholas Baer prepares to shoot a free throw during the Iowa/Pittsburgh basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the panthers, 69-68.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

By halftime against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, No. 14 Iowa had allowed 46 points. Twenty-six came in the paint, as the Panther guards penetrated the Hawkeye defensive unit with ease, driving to the bucket for layups. Even Hawkeye play-by-play commentator Gary Dolphin was impressed with Pitt’s guard play.

But in the second half, things changed. Iowa allowed just 22 points — fewer points than it allowed in the paint in the first half — and thanks to a lock-down effort, the Hawkeyes bodied their way to a win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Iowa’s gritty, grind-it-out win was a complete 180 from last season and a good sign for Hawkeye fans with No. 22 Wisconsin traveling to Carver-Hawkeye tonight for the Big Ten opener.

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“Our defensive effort has been an emphasis this year,” Nicholas Baer said. “… Credit to our guards. They were able to get through screens. We knew they wanted to a do a lot of ball-screen action. We were able to come out and get some defensive stops when we needed it. Wasn’t pretty, but we’ll win the ugly ones. We take pride in that.”

Pitt walked to the locker room at halftime shooting 61.3 percent from the field. In the second half, it hit just 29.2 percent of its shots — less than half as good.

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Xavier Johnson, one of Pitt’s stellar freshman guards, had just 6 points in the second half after entering halftime with 12, and head coach Jeff Capel thought Iowa’s physicality, especially in the second half, played a major role.

“I thought it became physical, and [Iowa] really tried to take Xavier out of the game and tried to deny him once he gave it up,” Capel said. “We got a little sloppy.”

For Iowa to get win No. 1 in Big Ten play tonight, the Hawkeyes need a repeat effort defensively, especially in the paint.

One of the league’s best post players, Ethan Happ, leads the Badgers in scoring, netting 18 points per game. He also averages 12.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2 blocks per game — he can do a bit of everything.

Happ isn’t alone — Wisconsin possesses a deadeye sniper in D’Mitrik Trice. The 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore guard is shooting 60 percent from 3-point range this season.  He has made at least four 3-pointers in four of Wisconsin’s seven games, and against Oklahoma on Nov. 22, he finished 7-of-8 from downtown.

Tonight’s game against Wisconsin marks the start of not only Big Ten play but the beginning of a tough early season stretch for the Black and Gold.

Following the completion of the Hawkeye-Badger matchup, Iowa will travel to East Lansing, Michigan, on Dec. 3 to take on No. 9 Michigan State. Iowa State comes to Iowa City for the annual Cy-Hawk game on Dec. 6, and then Iowa makes a trip to Des Moines to take on Northern Iowa in the Hy-Vee Classic.

The Hawkeyes aren’t looking at this key stretch of games as a whole. Instead, it boils down to a game-by-game approach.

“We talk about one game,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “I know it sounds like that’s what coaches are supposed to say, but we haven’t mentioned anybody else. We did the same thing when we played Alabama State. Worry about Alabama State. The only game that matters is the next one, and that’s how we handle it.”

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