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Schwartz: Iowa’s Senior Moment

March 6, 2016

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

A sigh of relief.

That’s what Saturday night’s win at Michigan was for Iowa.

One giant, long-awaited sigh of relief.

The Hawkeyes’ win, 71-61 in Ann Arbor, refocused the storyline. Out – at least for now – is “what went wrong?” Back in play is, “How good is Iowa and how far can it go in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments?”

The win wasn’t a cure-all. The Hawkeyes have still lost five of their last seven games. But it was a cure-enough.

It’s significant that the seniors carried the win. The Hawkeyes have one of the oldest cores in college basketball. To see them falling apart late in games the last few weeks, well, it made the postseason seem hopeless.

Saturday was different. Jarrod Uthoff was nearly as strong at the end of the game as he was at the beginning. He scored 29 points, which is cool and all, but the bigger deal is that he scored late from inside the three-point line. That’s when you know Uthoff, Iowa’s best player, is feeling it. If he’s firing off-balance threes, you know he’s desperate. If he’s popping 12-footers and swatting shots at the end of the game, you know Iowa’s opponent can’t figure out what to do with him.

Anthony Clemmons was clutch. Then again, he’s been Iowa’s most stable player all season late in games (not counting free throws).

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His three-pointer with 3:35 left to play put Iowa up by eight and ended a big run by Michigan. I was only watching on TV, but that basket seemed to cause the fanbase at the Crisler Center to let out a collective “Ughhhhh.” With about a minute remaining Clemmons sunk two free throws.(!) Iowa was up 11. Four scores. Ballgame.

Mike Gesell looked poised. More importantly, he looked decisive. Twelve assists and seven smart field-goal attempts. None of those John Lickliter-esque, “Oh my gosh it actually went in” drives to the basket.

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Gesell is so, so dangerous – when he’s under control. He’s the first guy I’d game plan to stop if I was an opposing coach. But he’s not the main hero at the end of the film with the snappy catchphrase firing the bazooka in slow motion. He’s the velociraptor in Jurassic Park who sneaks up on you from the side.

And what else is there to say about Adam Woodbury that hasn’t already been said this season? Based solely on his defensive play-calling, he might be the Big Ten’s most improved player from last season.

Offensively, he’ll never be Steph Curry. Or Seth Curry. Or Madame Curie. But along with Clemmons, Woodbury is the closest the Hawkeyes have to a calming presence on the court. Yes, there are still flashes of Years 1-3 Woodbury; the botched rebound that went flying out of bounds last Sunday against Ohio State comes to mind. Overall though, Iowa needs him, and he’s given Iowa everything he has.

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One big question Iowa did not get a chance to answer Saturday – the elephant in the room as tournament time approaches – is can they win in the final 2 minutes of a one-possession game?

Trying to find that answer is enough to give any Hawkeye fan a nervous breakdown, so let’s wrap up this column on a pleasant note:

The Hawkeyes ended their losing streak, and they did so on the road against Michigan, an NCAA Tournament bubble team. No bad. Not bad at all.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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