By Jack Lido
Trailing in a game for nearly 30 out of 40 possible minutes typically means bad things for your basketball team. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to the Northwestern Wildcats Wednesday night, who dropped to 1-4 in conference play after a 73-63 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Northwestern (10-6) was able to keep the game close, never trailing by double digits until the final 35 seconds. But Iowa (13-3) played with patience and physicality, like a boxer constantly jabbing and keeping at a distance before delivering the final blow.
The Wildcats came at the Hawkeyes with a handful of power punches out of the halftime locker room, taking their first and only lead for the first six minutes of the second half. Ryan Taylor, Dererk Pardon, Vic Law and A.J. Turner contributed to Northwestern’s 8-3 run to start the second half.
But after the 13:48 mark, the Hawkeyes took back the lead and never let it go. Led by 6-foot-6 freshman Joe Wieskamp, who had 15 of his game-high 19 points in the final 15 minutes, Iowa gave Northwestern fits. They got 21 points solely from the free-throw line, which somehow was actually less than their nation-leading season average of 22.06.
It was a huge missed opportunities for the Wildcats, as Iowa’s leading scorer and rebounder Tyler Cook was declared doubtful with a sore knee right before tip-off. He didn’t see the floor the entire game. Cook had a double-double in last year’s regular season finale in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes beat the Wildcats 77-70. Even without Cook, a 6-foot-9 senior, head coach Fran McCaffery’s squad played with brutal physicality.
“That’s what they do. They pound the paint,” said Northwestern head coach Chris Collins. “It’s not always on the big guys, the guards have to do a better job of making the (entry) passes tougher… Against really good players, if you get it real deep (in the paint) it’s gonna be tough. They’re either gonna score or they’re gonna get fouls.”
And fouls they got. Law, Taylor and Barret Benson all finished the game with four fouls, while Pardon fouled out of the contest with four minutes left and the ‘Cats only down by five.
Northwestern found a spark from its bench, specifically Anthony Gaines, who went a perfect 7-for-7 from the field and 3-for-3 from the charity stripe. His career-high 13 points led the Northwestern bench to 20 points, the most a Wildcat bench has scored in conference play all season.
“When I had the drive, I took it.” the 6-foot-4 sophomore said on his success. “The opportunities to drive the ball were very open and I did a great job with taking advantage of that.”
Turner, who scored ten points and played a team-high 38 minutes, remained optimistic in his post game press conference.
“Obviously we wanna win these games, but we still got 15 more, so we’re just gonna watch the film, see what we can learn.”
The Wildcats sit in 12th place in the Big Ten, with an NCAA Tournament berth, while achievable, still far in the distance. Northwestern’s next opportunity is this Sunday, January 13, against undefeated Michigan on the road.