Road games in East Lansing and Madison have been nightmare trips for Iowa men's basketball in recent years (decades?), with Iowa teams -- good, bad, and otherwise -- eating ugly loss after ugly loss in those unfriendly confines. So when Iowa's 2021 schedule was released and it featured back-to-back road games against Michigan State and Wisconsin, it was fair to be a little nervous. Now? Well, Iowa just swept both games... by a combined 45 points. That's one way to exorcise some road demons!
These may not be vintage Spartan or Badger squads, but Wisconsin certainly isn't a pushover -- #17 in KenPom, #19 in NET, and #21 in the AP. But Iowa put together a complete performance on both ends of the floor and rolled to a 77-62 victory. The 15-point margin of victory was their biggest in Madtown since 1988.
Iowa's 15-point victory is their largest in Madison since a 15-point win over the Badgers on January 25, 1988.— Matt Benson (@mbenson6) February 19, 2021
While there was no doubt in the outcome late, it wasn't easy work for Iowa all night long. Iowa used an early 11-0 run to open up an 11-3 run and led by double digits for much of the half, but turnovers and a late dry spell from the field prevented them for putting the game out of reach. Then Wisconsin put together a 9-2 run at the end of the half to cut Iowa's lead to six and appear to take the momentum heading into halftime. That is, until CJ Fredrick drilled a 3-pointer to give Iowa a 9-point lead heading into the break. That was a huge shot to ease some nerves.
Iowa used a 7-0 run out of halftime to extend their lead to 16 -- but they still couldn't shake the Badgers. Wisconsin went on a 12-1 run of their own to cut Iowa's lead to five, 44-39. A few minutes later Iowa's lead was down to just four, 47-43 with 10 minutes to play. There were definitely some hearts in throats. But as they'd managed to do all game, Iowa responded -- and this time they hit the Badgers with a knockout blow.
But before they could deliver that KO, they had to survive a push by Wisconsin -- which they did by matching them bucket for bucket. After Wisconsin cut the lead to four, Joe Wieskamp answered back on Iowa's next possession with a layup to push the lead to six. Brad Davison (UGH) hit a three to cut Iowa's lead in half -- but Luka Garza answered right back with an and-1 to match him. Then the teams took turns trading threes: Jack Nunge hit a three, Davison hit a three, Wieskamp hit a three, Davison hit another three, Wieskamp hit another three. Iowa and Wisconsin traded points again -- two Keegan Murray free throws for Iowa, a Micah Potter jumper for Wisconsin -- before Garza finished them off, with a three (that rolled around and touched every part of the rim on its way down) and a jumper. By the time the frenetic scoring stopped, Iowa had gone from a narrow 49-46 lead with nine minutes to play to an insurmountable 68-54 edge with four minutes to go. The final few minutes were just playing out the string 'til Iowa locked up an oh-so-satisfying victory.
The star of the show was Garza, who was absolutely dominant in this game. Garza hadn't put up monster numbers of late -- he'd actually been held under 20 points in three of his previous four games entering tonight's contest -- but he responded with his best effort in months here. He finished with 30 points, his 7th game with 30+ points this season (though his first since putting up 33 on Minnesota back on January 10), on 11/19 shooting, including 4/6 from 3-point range. That was his most threes made in a game since draining 4/8 against Purdue back in November. He also did work in the low post (as usual) and was dialed in at the free throw line, making 4/5 there, which was a relief to see after some struggles there in recent games. He had eight boards, two assists, and a block as well and looked every bit the part of the Big Ten and NCAA Player of the Year favorite tonight. This was Beast Mode Luka and it was wonderful to see.
Speaking of Garza, his 30-point effort tonight leaves him just 14 points shy of breaking one of the most hallowed records in Iowa basketball history, Roy Marble's all-time scoring mark.
With 30 (so far) tonight, Luka Garza now with 2,103 career points.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) February 19, 2021
Roy Marble's Iowa-record 2,116 has stood for 32 years. Not for much longer.
He'll have a chance to become Iowa's new all-time leading scorer against Penn State on Sunday.
Garza was ably assisted by Joe Wieskamp, who continued his stellar run of play in recent games. He had 17 points for the game on 6/9 shooting, including a sizzling 5/6 from 3-point range. Wieskamp has been simply en fuego in recent weeks, especially from deep -- he's scored 16+ in nine of his last 10 games while making 36/57 (63%!) of his threes in that span. For a while the only thing missing from Wieskamp's game has been consistency and a killer instinct -- and he's starting to show evidence of both now. He's producing at a high level on a regular basis and he's hitting clutch shots. Arguably the biggest stretch of the game was in the second half when Brad Davison got hot and started draining 3 after 3 for Wisconsin and threatening to cut into Iowa's lead. Iowa needed to answer back and it was Wieskamp who did just that, nailing a pair of threes that boosted Iowa's lead to nine points. Those buckets were huge in slowing Wisconsin's surge. Overall, 11 of Wieskamp's 17 points came in the second half, which was great to see.
Outside of Garza and Wieskamp, no Hawkeye hit double figures. Jordan Bohannon and Jack Nunge each finished with six points, while Keegan Murray and CJ Fredrick both had five point efforts. Perhaps more encouraging than Fredrick's point total was his minutes count -- he played 31 minutes tonight, his most since going 39 minutes in Iowa's OT loss to Minnesota on Christmas. Fredrick finished with five points, four assists, and no turnover, but his presence on the court was beneficial beyond the counting stats -- he boosted Iowa's perimeter defense, helped Iowa's spacing on offense, and gave them another strong ballhandler. Hopefully Fredrick can continue to play regularly for Iowa down the stretch.
Speaking of Iowa's defense... they certainly deserve some props after the Badgers scored just 62 points on dismal 30% shooting (21/70). Iowa did a good job of denying penetration from the Badger guards and contested shots well on the inside. On the other hand, the defense didn't force turnovers (just five) and gave up a lot of offensive rebounds (17). And while the Badgers missed 50 shots, it's not all of those misses can be attributed to smothering defense by the Hawkeyes; there were several good looks that Badger players just... missed. But still: this was another step in the right direction for Iowa's defense. It got stops when it needed to at several points and put Iowa's offense in position to win the game. That's good, because Iowa's offense continues to be ABSOLUTE FLAMES.
Iowa's nation leading offensive efficiency number went from 127.7 to 128.3. Gonzaga is second, a full 2.0 points per 100 poss behind Iowa. 2015 Wisconsin has the highest OffEff in KenPom era at 129.0. Iowa is doing this against the 13th toughest defensive SOS. This is insanity.— Jon D. Miller (@hawkeyepodcast) February 19, 2021
A 30-point road win over Michigan State. A 15-point road win over Wisconsin. It's hard to ask for a better two-game stretch than that. Now Iowa heads home, for one or two games -- they host Penn State for sure on Sunday (4 PM CT, FS1) and there's been a lot of scuttlebutt lately that the Big Ten will reschedule their home game against Nebraska for next week. Both of those games are not just winnable, but games Iowa needs to win in order to maintain their hopes of securing a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament and a Top-3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Based on the way Iowa is playing lately, though, we should have plenty of confidence in their ability to end February on a good note. Keep the good times rolling, Hawkeyes.