EVANSTON, Ill. — Swagger doesn’t come naturally to Iowa center Gabe Olaseni off the basketball court, even after a performance worth a strut or two.
Olaseni, a 6-foot-10 junior, offered humility when sizzle was prescribed. He just put up a double-double in a 76-50 win at Northwestern and yet he talked more about atoning for missed shots and making subtle improvements. He scored 14 points, and pulled down 10 rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.
“I’m just happy I got 10 boards up,” Olaseni said. “Points will come and go, but I think rebounding-wise, and offensively, that’s something I need to do consistently in terms of offense. I just happen to think when I first came I don’t think guys would ever expect a double-double out of me in Big Ten play. So I just praise the coaching staff and the team for developing me and just trusting me.”
Olaseni has every right to puff out his chest after Saturday. He scored two buckets early to keep Iowa (16-4, 5-2) ahead of the Wildcats (10-11, 3-5). But a missed putback off an offensive rebound boiled within him. So on his next defensive possession, he grabbed a miss from Tre Demps. After teammate Zach McCabe’s miss, Olaseni threw it down one-handed with thunder. It gave Iowa a 25-19 lead and sent the Iowa partition of Welsh-Ryan Arena into a frenzy.
“He was really consistent,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “He didn’t make many mistakes at all. The shots he took, he runs out, he puts pressure on the opposition with his running ability, he guards ball screens really well, which is important against Northwestern. He was all over the glass. He finished around the basket. I think every game you can see him gain more and more experience and confidence.”
“Gabe played tremendous,” Iowa guard Mike Gesell said. “He brought tons of energy, and that’s what we love to see out of him. He’s a great defender, blocks shots, rebounds, and he’s probably one of the fastest big men in the country in my opinion. He got out and ran and when he’s playing like that he opens up our offense that much more. He brings that kind of energy to the table.”
Olaseni continues to split time with sophomore starter Adam Woodbury in the post, but there’s neither animosity nor jealousy between the two. Woodbury finished with six points and six rebounds in 22 minutes. The respect is mutual and underrated.
“I think this is one of the games where we both did well,” Olaseni said. “He played excellent defense, stuff that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. I think I did pretty well defensively, and obviously I scored.
“He’s one of my biggest supporters, surprisingly. I think on the outside looking in, people want us to go after each other and say this guy should be playing more, that guy should be playing more. I couldn’t care less if I start, come off the bench, parachute through the ceiling.”
It’s an interesting dynamic, humility among competitive basketball players. But that seems to make Iowa’s post tandem work so well.
“I have a real love for Woody,” Olaseni said. “When he plays well, I’m happy for him. When I play well, he’s happy for me.”
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