Hensley: Iowa’s win over Illinois was its most cohesive performance this season

Iowa needed a dominate effort on both offense and defense to gain postseason traction, and that’s just what it got on Thursday.


Lily Smith

Iowa forward Tyler Cook dunks during the Iowa/Illinois Big Ten Tournament men’s basketball game in the United Center in Chicago on Thursday, March 14, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 83-62.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

 Given how Iowa basketball finished the regular season, Thursday’s shellacking of Illinois wasn’t entirely expected.

It was, however, just what Iowa needed.

“We showed that when we can play that active on defense and [have] poise on offense, we’re a dangerous team,” Luka Garza said. “We’re hard to beat.”

The Hawkeyes’ 83-62 route came to fruition thanks to an offensive avalanche and a stingy defensive output. The Hawkeyes hit 51.7 percent of their shots, made 12 of their 23 3-point attempts, and seven players scored at least 7 points in the win – all while holding Illinois below 50 points until there was 5:14 left in the game.

The players made it clear after the game just how important a win like Thursday’s can be, and they’re absolutely right.

Yes, Fran McCaffery’s track record in March isn’t the greatest (19-22), but the postseason is a clean slate, an opportunity for teams to flush bad habits.

That’s exactly what happened against Illinois, and it’s just in time for a second go-around with Michigan.

“Everybody is 0-0,” Connor McCaffery said. “Every night, even. [Friday] night, we’re 0-0. Win, and move on. If not, we’ll be watching the rest of the tournament from the ride home. That’s what it is. That’s tournament basketball. Love it or hate it, but we love it.”

Iowa’s abysmal three-game stretch to close out the regular season was one to forget. Two blowout losses and allowing a 7-point comeback in less than a minute seemed to cap off a nightmare end to what many deemed a special regular season.

Nothing helps build confidence and moral quite like securing the widest margin of victory since Jan. 20, ironically the last time Iowa and Illinois clashed.

Maybe it’s something about playing the Illini that awakens the Hawkeye offense.

When these teams met previously, Iowa made it rain from downtown, pouring in 15 triples on 21 attempts – a sizzling 71.4 percent from deep. In both meetings combined, Iowa shot 61 percent form 3-point range (27-of-44) and scored a total of 178 points.

It’s been nearly two months since Iowa hung 95 points on Illinois in Iowa City. That game seems farther back in recent memory than it is, as the Hawkeyes truly have not clicked on offense and defense since. Thursday marked that change.

Granted, Illinois is no world-beater in the slightest. This was a team that had failed to score more than 70 points on 12 occasions this season – all losses.

All Iowa needed was momentum headed into a clash with the conference tournament’s 3 seed.

A win against Michigan would accomplish something McCaffery has never done – win two games in the Big Ten Tournament. It would also provide Iowa with a potential boost as far as NCAA Tournament seedings go.

Iowa has the recipe to topple Michigan, as it demonstrated to a national audience on Feb. 1. Confidence, though, was what it was missing heading into the Big Ten Tournament.

That poise returned, as Iowa put together its most complete game of the season.