MINNEAPOLIS — This is when you’ve hit a valley: Charles Buggs scores 13 points against you.
Minnesota Coach Richard Pitino said the 6-foot-9 freshman from Texas had been “waiting, waiting, waiting.” Tuesday night in Williams Arena, he was an unforeseen cog for a Gophers team firing on all cylinders.
“That’s one of the best offensive teams in the country, and it’s not even close,” Pitino said after his team’s 95-89 win over 20th-ranked Iowa.
“Top to bottom, that’s one of the toughest teams to guard in the country.”
He was talking about the Hawkeyes. Based on this one game and one game only, he should have been referring to his own squad.
“They were on fire,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “I get that.”
Everyone who watched this game got that. Those of us who watched it from the Barn’s balcony could have sworn we saw flames.
Minnesota was so hot that a 6-foot-9 red-shirt forward named Buggs scored his first points since Dec. 3, and had 11 by halftime. He swished three 3-pointers. He had made two baskets all season.
“He hasn’t played all year, and he hits three threes.” Pitino said. He stopped, laughed, then added “That’s him.”
That was them, this night. A team that had scored 54, 49 and 46 points in its previous three games -— the last two of them losses — had 51 at halftime on 69.2 percent shooting from the field and an absurd 9-of-11 display from 3-point distance.
Buggs drove Iowa buggy. Austin Hollins drove the Hawkeyes buggier with his career-high 27 points, including four 3-pointers. Point guard DeAndre Mathieu drove and drove on Iowa, collecting 19 points and seven assists.
Iowa’s defense wasn’t good and Minnesota’s offensive effort was sublime. It was a bad road brew for the Hawkeyes, one that put them in a 2-game losing streak for the first time all season and increased their chances of yet again being slotted in a Thursday play-in game at the Big Ten tourney.
Ifs and buts aren’t candy and nuts, but had power forward Melsahn Basabe played more than for a minute against Wisconsin and none against Minnesota, Iowa might be 10-4 in the Big Ten instead of 8-6. Might be.
“A low post scoring threat, another rebounder, shot-blocker against this big, physical team,” McCaffery said when asked what Basabe would have given Iowa here. But the senior continues to have a stomach ailment.
Stuff happens. Teams get injuries and illnesses. This is the first of either for Iowa in league play this year, and it hasn’t risen above it.
McCaffery gave guard Josh Oglesby his first start of the season. For the second-straight game, Oglesby came up big on offense. But he isn’t Basabe on defense, nor was any Hawkeye this night.
The sky is only falling for Iowa if you’re a sky-is-falling type. Big Ten-leader Michigan lost three of five games from Feb. 2-16. Michigan State’s February record is 3-4. Wisconsin lost five of six from Jan. 14-Feb. 1.
So Iowa’s in a two-game valley. Does it become a crater if the Hawkeyes don’t snap back Thursday at Indiana? Well based on the Hoosiers’ dismal second-half Tuesday at Wisconsin — wait a second. Minnesota had a dismal second-half at Ohio State in its previous game.
“We never get too high or too low,” McCaffery said. But he did admit this about his defense: “We need some work.”
Still … Charles Buggs?