Men’s Basketball Sidebar: Hawkeyes’ unforced turnovers lead to blowout loss

Danny Daly and Danny Daly

This is how Iowa was supposed to play two weeks ago.

The Hawkeyes shot less than 15 percent from 3-point range, recorded more turnovers than assists and fell behind by 20 before the end of the first half. The same team that beat Northwestern handily at home lost to the Wildcats 74-57 Thursday night in a game that was even more lopsided than the score indicated.

“I don’t remember exactly the phrase (NU coach Bill Carmody) used when he came to Iowa City, something like, ‘We got slapped pretty good,’ but they sure returned the favor,” Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said. “I’ve got to give them a lot of credit for responding the way they did, but that’s what you would expect from a well-coached team that has pride. They came out executing flawlessly.”

In NU’s near-comeback victory at Wisconsin last weekend, it amped up the pressure defensively to chip away at the lead. The Cats employed a similar strategy against the Hawkeyes at the beginning of Thursday’s contest.

The momentum from the second half in Madison, Wisc., carried over, and NU defended Iowa’s guards in the backcourt to control the tempo and dictate the style of play.

“(We wanted to) go out there and press them a little bit, just to see if we could get the aggression going,” Carmody said. “I don’t think we bothered them too much, but they turned it over once or twice. (In Iowa), they got any shot they wanted. They were less comfortable tonight.”

After taking advantage of the Cats’ 1-3-1 zone in the 78-65 win earlier this season, the Hawkeyes didn’t go up against it at all in the rematch. Carmody decided his team needed to get back to the basics of “moving our feet and keeping our body in front of the dribbler” in the matchup zone.

That philosophy helped put Iowa in a 39-19 hole at intermission.

“Our defense was the difference,” said sophomore forward John Shurna, who tallied a game-high 29 points. “That first half at Iowa, we were giving up a lot of 3s, and we were fighting back the whole time. Tonight we got off to a good start, and our defense was really key for us. It pushed us forward and made our offense better.”

The Hawkeyes didn’t exactly offer a formidable challenge. They had 10 turnovers by halftime and 14 in all, but most were unforced-the Cats made just three steals. Iowa’s best post presence, sophomore forward Aaron Fuller, picked up two fouls in the first eight minutes and eventually fouled out. His backup, Andrew Brommer, was even worse-the 6-foot-9 sophomore played nine minutes and was called for five fouls.

Those inside struggles allowed NU to outscore Iowa 38-20 in the paint. The Cats had no trouble driving to the hoop, looking like the Harlem Globetrotters in comparison to the unathletic Hawkeyes.

“They got to the spots where they wanted to, they passed the ball where they wanted to, and where they wanted to go was at the basket,” Lickliter said. “They probably had 10 backdoor layups, whereas at Iowa City, there might have been one backdoor (cut).”

Offense hasn’t been an issue for NU during its recent skid, and it maintained its hot shooting against Iowa. The Cats made 22-of-30 attempts from inside the arc, and four of their five starters shot at least 60 percent.

NU’s next contest, a road trip to Penn State on Sunday, features the same storyline as the win over Iowa. The Nittany Lions lit up the Cats’ 1-3-1 defense and scored 81 points, their highest output of the Big Ten season, en route to their first conference win last week.

Considering how well NU’s adjustments worked Thursday, expect Carmody to continue to emphasize defensive fundamentals.[email protected]