1. Woodbury making strides. It was late, Iowa had a clear advantage but Coach Fran McCaffery was tired of watching Penn State score second-chance points.
The Nittany Lions corralled three offensive rebounds in the final two minutes, leading to four points. That prompted McCaffery to shout at his team, “Hey get a rebound.”
Within seconds, McCaffery sent in 7-foot-1 center Adam Woodbury, who had sat out for the last 15 minutes of game action. Woodbury promptly grabbed a missed 3-pointer from Penn State’s Brandon Taylor to effectively end the game’s competitive phase.
“(McCaffery) asked me if I could get one for him. I told him I could,” Woodbury said. “I was just excited to get back in the game. I hadn’t been playing for a while, so I was ready to go out there and do something.”
Woodbury played just 11 total minutes in Iowa’s 82-70 win at Penn State. But his impact was felt in multiple areas, from interior defense to his new-found prowess at the free-throw line. Yes, you read that right.
As a freshman, Woodbury hit just 51 percent of his free throws. After Saturday’s 7 of 8 performance at the line, Woodbury now shoots 71.4 percent from the line this year. He spent much of his offseason working on his shot, and now he jokingly gives tips to his teammates.
“It’s a been a great turnaround,” Woodbury said. “(Assistant) Coach (Kirk) Speraw has helped me out a lot. Now he’s trying to help Mike (Gesell) out. I’m trying to give pointers.”
Woodbury’s free-throw percentage is higher than Gesell, but Iowa’s point guard scoffs at taking any advice on shooting from the line.
“Don’t listen to him,” said Gesell, laughing. But late in the game, Gesell inbounded the ball and tossed it straight to Woodbury, who immediately was fouled. Last year, most players would have ignored Woodbury in a similar situation.
Woodbury didn’t score a basket and missed his only two attempts from the field. But he was active on defense preventing penetrating guards. He worked countless hours last summer on his lateral quickness with strength coach Bill Maxwell, and it’s seemed to have paid off. Woodbury rarely is out of position on defense and his frame often deters guards from challenging the lane.
Gesell and Woodbury are friends from their AAU days and their Sioux City-area connection. Gesell said he’s watched Woodbury grow as a player and admires his unselfishness.
“He’s a worker, that’s what he is. He’s a work horse,” Gesell said. “He rarely misses a rotation, rarely misses or is late in showing on a ball screen. That’s something you need out of a big man. He makes tough plays for us. Some of the rebounds he made down the stretch, making free throws, doing all the dirty work that doesn’t necessarily show up in the stats.
“He’s one of the best screeners in the country, in my opinion. I hate when he’s on the opposite team in practice and I’ve got to try to get through his screens. He just does all the little things that you need to win a ball game that doesn’t necessarily show up in the stats.”
Woodbury continues to deal with intense scrutiny based on picking up top-50 status as a prep at Sioux City East High School. He doesn’t post impact numbers, but like an offensive lineman in football, his contributions are invaluable.
“I feel like I bring a lot to the table,” Woodbury said. “It doesn’t always show up in the stat book. People want to say this and that about my stats and numbers, but I think I’m bringing something to the team that maybe we don’t have on every given night. I think my numbers are going to come as I get older and more mature. I think I’ll be all right.”
2. Quite a turnaround. Three years ago Iowa posted back-to-back four-win seasons in the Big Ten. Fran McCaffery had his squad competing in his inaugural 4-14 season, but the Hawkeyes just couldn’t pull out several close games at home until the season finale against Purdue.
Now, Iowa is 8-4 in Big Ten play and have won four road games so far (Ohio State, Northwestern, Illinois, Penn State). Iowa has its first three-game road winning streak in the Big Ten since 1997-98 when it knocked off Indiana, Ohio State and Minnesota in succession to open league play. The Hawkeyes have a chance to add to that streak Tuesday when they play at struggling Indiana (4-8 Big Ten, losers of three straight league games).
There are several reasons for Iowa’s road run, McCaffery said.
“We have an experienced team,” McCaffery said. “We have a deep team. We have some toughness, and we have multiple ball handlers. So much goes into playing on the road from traveling to weather issues and a variety of things. You have a home-court advantage, the crowd, and the atmosphere. We have responded well to those challenges this year. I think that is what I expected of this team this year and what they expected of themselves, that they would handle it. They may not win them all, but they were going to play well enough to win and be in a position to win.”
On paper, a win at Penn State (13-13, 4-9 Big Ten) doesn’t look impressive, but the Hawkeyes had lost five of their last six in State College. The lone victory came last year on a last-second 74-72 victory. Penn State competes with toughness, and the Iowa players expressed real joy afterward.
“I’m very proud of our team,” Gesell said. “We went through a lot of adversity (Saturday) and any road Big Ten win is a good win on your resume. Penn State, they’ve been playing very good basketball lately. Their team is going to battle you for a full 40 minutes. It’s one of the most physical games we’ll play in the Big Ten so I’m very proud of our team to fight through that.”
3. Craziness (A). A Penn State student group put a white pom-pom on several hundred chairs across from Iowa’s bench on Saturday. The poms waved at times Saturday, but it lacked the flavor of even a small section of seats at Beaver Stadium during a football white-out.
Perhaps even more interesting was a paper placed next to the poms. It asked for certain cheers “Who Hates Iowa? We Hate Iowa” — clearly borrowing from Minnesota’s notorious anti-Iowa chant — and also asked McCaffery to sit down during the game. From my vantage point, the instructions were clearly ignored.
3. Craziness (B). Saturday marked the seventh consecutive game Iowa had played during some sort of weather situation. That includes snowstorms during home games against Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan as well as road trips to Michigan, Northwestern, Illinois and Penn State. The weather has created less-than-ideal situations for the teams (not to mention the reporters who cover the squad). Hopefully, Tuesday’s game against Indiana will end the rough weather streak.
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