INDIANAPOLIS -- Iowa's players are out of sync and out of sorts with one another on the basketball court. In order to rectify it before a likely NCAA tournament bid, they must answer one other's questions about effort and focus.
After crushing Northwestern twice by a combined 52 points earlier this year, the sixth-seeded Hawkeyes (20-12) were upended by the 11th-seeded Wildcats 67-62 out in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Northwestern (14-18) outhustled Iowa's players for loose balls and rebounds. While the Wildcats were on the attack, Iowa's players were caught flat-footed, especially in the first half.
"I think itís just our energy and obviously people are scoring on us way more easily," Iowa guard Josh Oglesby said. "Just coming out, having energy and giving it your all every night. I donít think people are."
That was painfully obvious in the first half. Northwestern outrebounded Iowa 17-11, and the game was tied 31-31 despite seven Wildcat turnovers. Iowa allowed several easy baskets, and Northwestern took advantage with a late 10-3 run.
It got worse in the second half. After Northwestern built a seven-point lead, Iowa rallied to tie the game 45-45 with 9:13 left. Yet the Wildcats, even after a scoring drought that lasted 5 minutes, 28 seconds and lasted seven possessions, hit three consecutive shots late in the clock to either take or extend the lead.
The first was a last-second 3-pointer by Tre Demps to give the Wildcats a 48-45 lead. Two possessions later, Dave Sobolewski drilled a jumper over 6-foot-9 Jarrod Uthoff. Two trips later at the buzzer, Sobolewski again knocked down a 3-pointer. Those baskets kept Northwestern in the lead, and Iowa failed to knot the score.
"A lack of communication, a lack of rotations, especially later in the shot clock when theyíre scoring," Iowa guard Devyn Marble said. "Thatís when it comes down to, guys are going to try to scramble and stop penetration and weíre doing a good job of stopping initial penetration. Itís the kick-outs off initial penetration thatís hurting us."
Northwestern shot 52.3 percent from the field, the fourth time in six games Iowa had allowed its opponent to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor. Each of the last seven opponents have shot better than 46 percent. It's no wonder the Hawkeyes have lost six of their last seven games.
"Itís not hard to explain why this happened," Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe said. "Itís our defense. Weíre a great defensive team and these last struggles, guys have gotten away from what theyíre good at. Everyone who has asked me this, itís no mystery. Just as men we have to accept the mistakes, not blame each other, come together and take pride in our defense. Thatís what I keep telling myself. Whateverís going to happen, we have to address that."
Northwestern dropped 11-of-23 3-pointers. Conversely, Iowa shot 32.3 percent overall and just 25.7 percent in the second half. The Hawkeyes missed all nine 3-point attempts after halftime.
Point guard Mike Gesell was 0-for-10 and missed all five 3-pointers. Oglesby was 0-for-5 and missed all five 3-point attempts. No matter how poorly the defense played, the lack of balanced offensive output was equally the culprit.
"Offensively, we're struggling," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said, stating the obvious. "Is that execution? Is it offensive patience? Is it poor execution in transition? We'll watch film, we'll break it down, we'll do drills, we'll work individually with individual players. And I like to say, we'll stay positive and address all of those areas."
Many of the players were red-eyed as they sat hunched over in their lockers after the game. Their confidence is waning but Basabe said doubt hasn't yet overwhelmed them.
"I donít think thereís any doubt because we donít believe in one another," Basabe said. "I think thereís disappointment because we havenít been playing to our level. That would be the proper word I would use. Coach used it in the after-the-game speech. Weíre not here to feel sorry for ourselves, and we have everything we need. We have everything in this room to be an elite-level team. The only thing missing is our energy and intensity on just the defensive end. Obviously we can correct mistakes but I think thatís the biggest mistake we had."