Iowa's first victory against Wisconsin set the tone for its Big Ten season. Iowa's second win against the Badgers amplified it.
With a loud, boisterous fan base coupled with a national television audience, the Hawkeyes upset No. 15 Wisconsin 67-66 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Feb. 23.
Matt Gatens, that's what happened. The Iowa senior continued a torrid shooting pace, knocking down 7-of-8 from the field in the first half and all four 3-point attempts to give Iowa a 43-34 lead at halftime. Gatens finished with a career-high and an Iowa season-best 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting. He had seven 3-pointers, three rebounds, two assists and no turnovers in 39 minutes.
"The first two he made, I mean, he got it off so quick," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "I mean, they were on him. He made seven in the last game; they were on him.
"They do a great job of scouting. He just pulled the trigger. Once he got going, he was on fire."
The game's pace was surprisingly quick; it was 18-14 barely five minutes into the game. Iowa ramped up its defensive pressure, forcing 11 first-half turnovers (Wisconsin averaged nine per game) and led 43-34 at the break.
The Hawkeyes extended their lead to 13 points early in the second half, but Wisconsin continued to battle. Ben Brust hit a 3-pointer with 12:56 left in the game to cut Iowa's lead to three. Throughout the game Iowa would take a triple-possession advantage only to have the Badgers cut it to manageable distance.
Multiple times Gatens shot the Hawkeyes into a comfortable lead. After Brust's 3-pointer put the Badgers within 51-48, Gatens twice hit jumpers and then sank a 3-pointer to give Iowa a 10-point advantage. In the end, Gatens sealed the victory with a pair of free throws.
Gatens hit his first five 3-pointers to give him an Iowa-record 12 straight made 3-pointers. It vaulted him to a co-Big Ten Player of the Week award after scoring 30 the previous game against Indiana. It was the first time in 15 years a Big Ten player scored more than 30 points back-to-back against ranked conference opponents.
"One of the most incredible things I've ever seen, right from the beginning," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said.
The win earned Iowa a season sweep of the Badgers for the first time since 1995. It also marked a pair of Iowa back-to-back wins against ranked opponents for the first time in six seasons.
Big picture, Iowa holds the all-time advantage against Wisconsin at 78-77.
The victory helped Iowa reach the postseason for the first time since 2006, not only because of the win itself, but possibly because of the crowd support. The Hawkeyes finished as a No. 7 seed in the NIT and were asked to host second-seeded Dayton, which had NCAA tournament games held at its gym.
"That's a very difficult team to beat," McCaffery said. "Their style of play. They turn the ball over 13 times, that's the most they turn it over this year. They don't turn it over."
"We tried to make (Gatens) work hard for them," Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan said. "We finally disrupted him to some extent. If he’s going to make shots, we want them to be tough twos. But he got hot. He is on a consistent streak and is playing really well. And we knew that, it’s not like we were surprised. You have to give a guy credit when he can knock those kinds of shots down.“
Four days before Iowa upset Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes took out No. 18 Indiana 78-66 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Gatens was virtually unstoppable in the second half, hitting six 3-pointers. He scored 22 of his 30 points after halftime. The game was played three weeks after Iowa surrendered 103 points to the Hoosiers, who shot 55.2 percent in that game. Iowa held Indiana to 37.7 percent in the Hawkeyes' win.