IOWA CITY — In a figurative sense, last night’s game for the Iowa men’s basketball team was the equivalent of the players stretching their muscles, exhaling and hopping on the treadmill.
Literally, however, the No. 23-ranked Hawkeyes (10-1) were focused on overmatched Fairleigh Dickinson (3-9), which Iowa beat 92-59 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa’s players vowed to not look past the Knights, and they didn’t. But nobody needed to tell them who’s next on their schedule. They already know.
“I don’t think it’s ever about trying to look at the next game,” Iowa guard Devyn Marble said. “It’s trying to focus on the team that’s in front of you, knowing you’re the better team and what you’re supposed to do. It’s harder to just focus on (Fairleigh Dickinson) as an opponent and not play down to your opponent’s level and trying to play at a high level knowing you’re an elite team in the country. That’s what’s hard about games like this.
“Now, you’ve got a different mindset going into that game.”
That game is perhaps the most anticipated Cy-Hawk basketball showdown in series history. The Hawkeyes and No. 17 Iowa State (7-0) pair off on Friday at Hilton Coliseum in Ames. The last time these teams faced one another as ranked rivals was in 1987, when No. 20 Iowa State edged No. 7 Iowa 102-100 in overtime behind Lafester Rhodes’ 54 points.
That game was played well before the life spans of either team’s star players, and Friday’s upcoming match-up wasn’t on the minds of Iowa’s athletes last night, either. But they know what’s on deck and took care of business against Fairleigh Dickinson with workmanlike precision.
Iowa’s big men were active and physical. Melsahn Basabe, Gabe Olaseni and Jarrod Uthoff all produced double-doubles inside of 20 minutes of action. It was the first time Iowa had three players with three double-doubles in points and rebounds since Dec. 29, 1993 with Jess Settles, Jim Bartels and Russ Millard.
Basabe was the game’s interior force, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in 16 minutes. He had four offensive boards and shot 5-of-7 from the field. Uthoff had 10 points and 10 rebounds while Olaseni scored a team-best 14 points with 10 points. They combined for 10 offensive rebounds.
“This team is really good; they could have made it a closer game,” Basabe said. “We did what we were supposed to do, win by a large margin, but you still want to keep the attitude that I’m trying to get better.
“I think you’ve got to keep a positive but humble attitude if you want to be successful. You don’t want to take anything for granted, and I think the coaches do a good job of keeping us that way.”
After falling behind 6-0, Iowa scored the game’s next 19 points, 13 of which by the second unit. Iowa’s bench outscored its starters 51-41 and the Hawkeyes just overwhelmed the Knights in transition. Iowa notched 54 points in the paint and held a 24-5 edge in second-chance points. The Hawkeyes out-rebounded Fairleigh Dickinson 54-32.
“We really attacked them on the glass, and we attacked them in transition,” Uthoff said. “Those are two areas where we really focus on.”
Now all of Iowa’s focus can center on their in-state rivals. The buildup could reach palpable levels, and Basabe embraces the rivalry.
“It is intense, there is some thick blood there,” Basabe said. “It’s definitely a fun game. The energy has been great when we both weren’t ranked so this year I can only imagine. It’s going to be crazy.
“That crimson is just going to swamp you. They’re kind of on top of you over there. It’s definitely a test.”