Hawkeyes top Huskers to hit 20 wins
IOWA CITY – Iowa’s NCAA tournament hopes appeared hopeless after the Hawkeyes lost at Nebraska two weeks ago.
Don’t count the surging Hawkeyes out quite yet.
Aaron White led a balanced effort with 19 points and Iowa beat Nebraska 74-60 in its regular-season finale on Saturday, finishing at .500 in the Big Ten for the first time in six years and reaching 20 wins for the first time since 2005-06.
“It’s a step. I think the important thing is that we realize that it’s just a step,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said about winning 20 games. “We’re not done, and we never want to be satisfied.”
Freshman Adam Woodbury had 12 points for the Hawkeyes (20-11, 9-9), who clinched the No. 6 seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament.
Iowa, which broke the game open with a 20-2 run midway through the second half, will open conference tourney play against Northwestern on Thursday.
“It’s all about that next step and getting quality wins and making the NCAA tournament,” White said. “When they show the league standings and us being in the top half, it’s a good feeling.”
Ray Gallegos had 22 points for Nebraska (14-17, 5-13), which will be the No. 10 seed for the Big Ten tournament.
Iowa pushed its lead to 34-23 to open the second half, and it looked as though the Hawkeyes were about to bury the Huskers.
To Nebraska’s credit, it hardly backed down.
The Huskers crept back within 43-42 on Dylan Talley’s 3. But a pair of layups and a dunk from Melsahn Basabe pushed the lead back to 56-44, and a layup by Woodbury off of a surprisingly strong pass from fellow big man Gabe Olaseni made it 61-44 with 8:08 left.
“Defense was our big weakness. They shot 70 percent in the second half. We never got consecutive stops,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.
Anthony Clemmons and Basabe each had 11 for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa’s Devyn Marble scored his 1,000th point on Saturday, joining his father Roy Marble as the only father/son duo in Big Ten history to do so. But he finished with just six points on 2-of-9 shooting.
By far the worst loss Iowa has had this season came in Lincoln on Feb. 21. The Hawkeyes blew a 19-point lead, severely damaging their slim NCAA tournament hopes.
After beating up on the Huskers in the rematch, Iowa isn’t as much of an NCAA tournament longshot anymore.
The Hawkeyes won six of their last eight games and are playing their best basketball heading into the Big Ten tournament. They’ve already beaten the Wildcats decisively twice this season, and if they pick up another win they’ll get one last shot at a marquee win over the Big Ten’s No. 3 seed.
“We have great leadership with (senior) Eric May. We have tremendous character on our team,” McCaffery said. “It’s a team that, they truly like each other and they work hard together.”
McCaffery also pleaded his case for the Hawkeyes as an NCAA tournament team after the game, noting that they finished .500 in the Big Ten, which he said is “clearly” the best league in the country.
“I think we deserve tremendous consideration,” McCaffery said about the NCAA tournament. “We’ve accomplished a great deal.”
Talley finished with 11 for Nebraska, which finished 1-8 on the road in the Big Ten.
The Huskers let Iowa shoot 57 percent from the field and grab 17 more rebounds than they did.
“We just didn’t want to take the bit, dig in, play defense and bite the way you have to,” Miles said.