IOWA CITY — Gardner-Webb’s not a name-brand program, but that hardly matters to the Iowa men’s basketball team.
Gardner-Webb (2-2) plays at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, and the Runnin’ Bulldogs have got the goods to scare the you-know-what out of the unbeaten Hawkeyes (3-0). Gardner-Webb blasted DePaul 71-59 on the road Thursday and never trailed at the Big East team.
Gardner-Webb opened the season at North Carolina in a 17-point loss, so the team is battle-tested.
“That’s a terrific program,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “They’ve got athletes, they’ve got some experience, they’ve got good guard play. We’ve got our hands full with them.”
Gardner-Webb hails from the Big South Conference, a league that produced Campbell, which beat Iowa by 16 points in a November meeting last year.
But this is a different Iowa team from a year ago. The Hawkeyes blend a mix of youth with experience and showcase more depth and talent that they did last year. Iowa has won its three games in different ways and has adapted its lineup to match its opponent.
The Hawkeyes threw sheer numbers at Texas-Pan American in a 29-point opening victory. Iowa shifted to a smaller lineup against Central Michigan, then won with defense against Howard on Thursday.
“You know, I’m real comfortable with what these guys are doing,” McCaffery said. “We’re trying different combinations. They all seem to be working. Obviously the real challenge will be as we move forward.”
A prime objective for Iowa on Saturday is to get its perimeter shots to fall. The Hawkeyes have hit just 18-of-56 from 3-point range, including a 4-of-21 performance Thursday. Gardner-Webb has produced tough perimeter defense, holding opponents to just 12 3-pointers in 52 attempts. North Carolina hit only 1-of-12, while DePaul sank just 2-of-13.
Sophomore shooting guard Josh Oglesby in particular has struggled for Iowa, hitting only one of his first 12 3-point shots.
“He got great looks — our guys were looking for him — and I would tell him to take the exact same shots in the next game if not more,” McCaffery said.
Iowa guard Devyn Marble said struggling with perimeter shots might actually be a long-term positive.
“It’s probably good for us early on because it’s making us play defense to keep teams from being so close in games,” Marble said. “I’m not worried about it. We’re going to make shots. We’re a good shooting team.”
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