By Pat Harty
The Iowa men’s basketball team came to the Kohl Center on Thursday under less than ideal circumstances.
In addition to having lost three of its last four games, Iowa was also facing the Wisconsin Badgers on their Senior Night and without head coach Fran McCaffery, who was serving the second of his two-game suspension for berating an official in the moments after the Feb. 26th loss at Ohio State.
So the odds were definitely stacked against the struggling Hawkeyes and the odds held true in a big way as Wisconsin held Iowa to a season low in points while cruising to a 65-45 victory in Madison, Wis.
Iowa’s offense was disjointed pretty much from start to finish and there seemed to be little emotion or positive energy coming from the Iowa players.
Just when you hope to be playing at your best, Iowa is playing at its worst.
No player for Iowa scored in double figures and junior forward Tyler Cook, the team's leading scorer with a 15.8 per-game average, was held scoreless for the first time as a Hawkeye.
It was Iowa's lowest point total since its 56-44 loss to Northern Iowa in 2014.
Iowa only made 18-of-59 field-goal attempts overall in Thursday's game and has now shot less than 48 percent from the field in the last six games, and less than 36 percent in three of those six games.
"We just want to turn it around, understanding that this wasn't the performance that we wanted" senior forward Nicholas Baer said on the Learfield post-game radio show. "But we're going to stay positive with each other and we're going to stick together and play together and looking forward to another opportunity against Nebraska."
It might be a good thing that there is only one game left in the regular season because Iowa, with records of 21-9 overall and 10-9 in conference play, probably doesn’t have enough opportunities to play itself out of the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa will close out the regular season at Nebraska on Sunday, and though, the Cornhuskers are struggling with a 5-14 conference record under embattled head coach Tim Miles, it will be their Senior Day, so they could be energized by that emotion.
But Iowa will at least have Fran McCaffery back on the bench for the Nebraska game, so maybe his energy and passion will make a difference because Iowa had little of either against the Badgers, or against Rutgers in the previous game last Saturday.
Iowa’s performance against the Badgers was embarrassing. It was similar to last season when the Hawkeyes finished 4-14 in the conference with many of the losses not even close or competitive.
The same Iowa team that defeated Michigan 74-59 on Feb. 1 hasn’t played well since then.
Iowa is 4-4 since the victory over Michigan, including two fluke wins over Northwestern and Rutgers.
None of the Iowa players are shooting well and their NCAA Tournament seed drops with each loss.
Points were hard to come by in the first half both teams combined to make just 18-of-55 field-goal attempts.
The Badgers only made 2-of-11 shots from 3-point range in the first half, while Iowa wasn’t much better converting on 3-of-10 attempts from behind the arc.
Cook missed all five of his shots in the first half and was held scoreless, while sophomore center Luka Garza only attempted two shots in the first half and made one.
Bohannon led Iowa in scoring in the first half with five points.
So it was clear at halftime that the slow-it-down Badgers were playing at their tempo, and Iowa was struggling to adjust.
Senior forward Ethan Happ made a basket to expand Wisconsin’s lead to 40-26 with 15:52 left in the second half.
Wisconsin guard D`Mitrik Trice followed with a runner in the lane and the Badgers were threatening to break the game wide open.
Happ made back-to-back baskets to give Wisconsin a 46-28 lead and that forced Iowa to call a timeout with 12:22 remaining.
Cook still was scoreless at that point and on the bench with three fouls.
Iowa called another timeout less than a minute later after Wisconsin guard Brevin Pritzl was left wide open on the baseline for an easy dunk, making the score 48-28 with 11:44 remaining.
Cook then picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench with 11:30 remaining and the situation looked bleak at that point, and would only get worse.