By Jess Settles, correspondent
MINNEAPOLIS -- Even the glove-wearing Minnesota Vikings mascot hit a 3-pointer!
Immediately following a first half that saw Minnesota shoot 69 percent and bury 9 of 11 3-pointers against Iowa, spectators in Williams Arena Tuesday night were forced to watch the worst scrimmage in the history of basketball. Fully outfitted Minnesota area mascots waddled up and down the court, smashing shots off the backboard.
But when the Viking mascot caught the ball directly in front of the Iowa bench and let it fly, the odds were high on this night that it was going in.
The Hawkeyes’ dream of their first regular-season title since the days of Ronnie Lester is history, following the Gophers’ 95-89 victory.
It all fell apart at the defensive end. The 20th-ranked Hawkeyes entered the game ranked second in the Big Ten in field-goal defense (39 percent), 3-point field goals defense (29 percent) and rebound margin (plus 9). The Gophers, who were fighting for their tournament lives, hit 61 percent of their field goals, shot 58 percent from downtown and, inexplicably, out-rebounded the Hawks.
"We just didn't close out on shooters hard enough and make them put it on the floor," Aaron White said after the Hawkeyes’ first back-to-back losses of the season.
On Saturday vs. Wisconsin, the Badgers lit up Iowa for 57 percent in the first half, including 5 of 11 from behind the arc. The Badgers beat the Hawks on the boards and pulled down 13 offensive rebounds, even though Wisconsin usually sends three guys back on defense to stop transition offense.
Minnesota averaged 49 points per game over its last three contests, and lit up Iowa with 51 points in the first half! Iowa held Minnesota’s leading scorer Andre Hollins to only three first-half points, yet gave up a career high 27 points to his running mate Austin Hollins.
The most discouraging performance for Iowa came from a guy who had as much ink on the scouting report entering the game as the mascots who performed at halftime. Charles Buggs, averaging 1 point and 4 minutes per game in garbage time, hit three 3s and scored 11 points in the first half against Iowa. "He's not even in the scouting report," a frustrated Josh Oglesby said. "But you still have to find him after he hits one."
So what is answer?
Senior Melsahn Basabe, who has been sick the last two games, needs to return to the lineup. Until he returns, Iowa defenders must close out harder and force shooters to put the ball on the floor. Each player must take personal responsibility for their man or their zone and finish each play with an aggressive rebound.
Indiana, who Iowa plays tonight, does not have an official mascot, but they do have a player named Yogi (Ferrell) in their lineup. He will once again test Iowa’s defensive strategy with his scoring ability. The Hawkeyes are in danger of getting outscored by their third straight opponent if they don’t buckle down defensively.