And just like that, it's over.
Iowa's second round game in the NCAA Tournament ended the exact same way it has 11 of the last 12 times they've been at stage: with a loss. The most talented and most hyped Iowa team in a generation falls short of a Sweet 16. Iowa's Sweet 16-less drought now stretches to 22 seasons, with no end in sight.
This ended up being exactly the game that so concerned us when we broke it down and looked at what made Oregon tick this year. The Ducks don't have a lot of depth and they don't have a lot of size or girth -- but they have a lot of length and a lot of quickness. Also -- and this is the killer -- they have ungodly amounts of shooting.
Iowa's best lineups the last two seasons have usually featured Luka Garza surrounded by a bevy of shooters. Oregon twists that concept by deciding to just play nothing but shooters. And those shooters made it rain today, again and again and again, for 40 long minutes. The Ducks scored 95 points today, with 89 of those coming from their starting five. Four of their five starters scored 17+ points today, led by Chris Duarte's 23 points (on 9/12 shooting), LJ Figueroa's 21 points (on 8/14 shooting), and Will Richardson's 19 points (on 7/10 shooting).
In fact, guard play is pretty much this game in a nutshell.
Oregon's starting three guards: 63 pts (24/36 FG, 9/16 3FG), 16 reb, 15 ast, 5 stl
Iowa's starting three guards: 0 points (0/8 FG, 0/4 3FG), 2 reb, 4 ast, 1 stl
Sixty. Three. To. Zero.
Tony Perkins and Joe Toussaint gave Iowa some production out of the guard spots today, combining for 10 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals. (And also six fouls and three turnovers...) But the damage was already done. Fredrick, McCaffery, and Bohannon got subbed out less than five minutes into the second half, after Oregon had grown their lead to 15, and didn't return until the game's final minutes, long after things had been decided. Their replacements didn't spark much of a turnaround (the defense, ostensibly the main reason they were in there in place of guys like Bohannon and Fredrick, was just as bad as it had been in the first half, allowing easy penetration into the lane and plenty of open jump shots), but it's hard to fault Fran for wanting to try something -- anything -- else after seeing the starters struggle for the first 25-odd minutes of this game.
There were questions about how Oregon would look coming into this game -- they hadn't played a first round game after the NCAA's COVID protocols had forced VCU to forfeit, making it 10+ days since the Ducks had hit the court in a competitive setting. Would they be rusty? Would they be nervous without a game to shake off their NCAA Tournament jitters? Those questions were answered pretty emphatically in the first half: no and hell no. The Ducks started the game blazing hot and stayed there pretty much all through the first half, shooting well over 50% from the floor (and making half of their three-point tries, too).
The good news was that Iowa was able to keep pace and trade buckets with them -- at least for the first 18 minutes of the first half. A Luka Garza layup made it 46-46 with two minutes to play. Then the Ducks ended the first half on a 10-0 run, courtesy a pair of made threes by Figueroa, a dunk from Eric Williams, Jr., and two free throws from Duarte, who was fouled on a three-pointer at the end of the half. A close game had cracked open and the Ducks were fully in charge at the break, leaving Iowa searching for answers.
Did they find any of those answers at halftime? Reader, they did not. A Joe Wieskamp three made it 56-49 thirty seconds into the second half, but that was as close as Iowa would get over the final 19:33 of game action. Oregon went on an 11-2 run that pushed their lead out to 16 and Iowa never got closer than 10 points after that. Oregon was actually a bit sloppier with the ball in the second half and didn't shoot quite as lights out as they had in the first half, but it didn't matter because Iowa was completely unable to take advantage. Iowa played reasonably well in the first half, but couldn't keep up with a team wielding flamethrowers at all five positions; in the second half Iowa just wasn't very good.
It's a disheartening way to end of the season, especially this season and with this collection of seniors. This was the last time we'll ever see Luka Garza or Jordan Bohannon in an Iowa uniform, and perhaps the last time we'll ever see Joe Wieskamp in one as well. Bohannon had a game to forget, one of the very worst of his long and record-filled Iowa career. Wieskamp played well in spurts, finishing with 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. And Garza went out with guns blazing. He had 22 points in the first half and finished with 36 points on 14/20 shooting (3/4 from 3-point range), and 9 rebounds. This was the Peacock we'll remember: feasting in the low post, stretching defenses and bombing away from deep, drawing contact and getting to the line. He was brilliant, but he was one man against five too often today and that's never going to be a winning formula in basketball.
This isn't why Bohannon fought through the pain of multiple injuries and the surgeries and rehab periods associated with those injuries to return for one last season. It's not the reason Garza deferred professional opportunities a year ago to come back for one final ride in black and gold. They badly wanted to lead Iowa to a level of success it hasn't tasted in over 20 years now. Unfortunately, they came up short in that quest. We salute their efforts, and for making this one of the most fun seasons of Iowa basketball to follow in ages (at least until this bitter ending). Thanks for the memories and for giving everything to the program over the last 4+ years, fellas.
For the program, and for Fran, this game was another painful addition to the Groundhog's Day-esque treadmill of heartbreak that the second round of the NCAA Tournament has become for Iowa fans. 11 of Iowa's last 12 trips to the second round have ended in defeat, mostly in lopsided fashion. Fran is now 0-4 in the second round (and the only game that was close was the miracle comeback against Tennessee that still ended in an OT loss two years ago). Iowa's been an underdog in most of those games (especially under Fran) -- but this year was supposed to be different. This was the year Iowa wasn't a plucky, overmatched underdog trying to pick off a better, higher-seeded team. This year they were the better, higher-seeded team. And it still didn't matter.
So the wait continues for Iowa to make it back to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Time marches on. For the 22nd straight season, the Hawkeyes do not.