By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – For the first time in five seasons, Iowa has back-to-back Big Ten victories on the road.
The Hawkeyes were determined and poised enough to overcome an 11-point deficit at Minnesota late in the first half and even endure six straight missed free throws in the final 40 seconds.
The Gophers simply lost their way – and their confidence.
Matt Gatens had 19 points, six rebounds and three steals to lead Iowa’s second-half surge past Minnesota for a 64-62 win on Wednesday night.
“This was a total team victory, and we’re far from done,” Gatens said. “We have to keep building momentum.” Maverick Ahanmisi’s runner from the edge of the lane in traffic bounced off the other side of the rim as the buzzer sounded, giving the Hawkeyes (10-6, 2-1) their first win over their border-state rival in five years. Fueled by a head-turning victory at then-No. 11 Wisconsin last weekend, the Hawkeyes hounded the Gophers into 4 for 23 shooting from 3-point range and forced 6-foot-11 center Ralph Sampson III into six turnovers. ”I challenged them to be more aggressive defensively,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey, whose team held the Badgers to 3 for 28 shooting from behind the arc. The Hawkeyes switched to a zone after falling behind 32-21 with 5:06 left in the first half, and the Gophers had trouble getting much going after that.
“We were ready to play. I don’t know whether our guys were feeling pressure or a fear of losing,” coach Tubby Smith said, singling out Austin Hollins – who went 2 for 9 from the floor – for his lack of composure. ”It looked like he was just nervous and shaking like a leaf out there,” Smith said, later expressing confidence that Hollins will bounce back: “Austin’s a good kid. We’ll help him figure it out.” The Gophers (12-4, 0-3) nearly got away with a sloppy victory after falling behind 63-55 with 57 seconds remaining, thanks to all those off-the-mark foul shots by the Hawkeyes. Sampson, who had 12 points, picked up a loose ball off his own missed free throw and converted a layup with eight seconds left to cut the lead to two. Roy Devyn Marble missed two foul shots, giving the Gophers possession again, but they ran the wrong play according to Smith and didn’t get a clean path to the hoop. Julian Welch, who led Minnesota with 14 points, was supposed to get the ball on a handoff, but Ahanmisi kept it the whole way. ”Good thing we were up by enough points,” McCaffrey said. Another miscommunication for Minnesota, and another missed opportunity.
“I think we got complacent,” Sampson said. Zach McCabe pitched in 12 points and Aaron White added 10 for the Hawkeyes, who ended a six-game losing streak to the Gophers. Coming in, the big question for McCaffrey’s team was how it would respond to the confidence-building win at the Badgers’ boisterous home court.
“Are we going to be mentally tough enough? Are we going to be smart enough?” the coach said. The answer was yes. Up next for Iowa is a home game against No. 6 Ohio State, then a trip to No. 10 Michigan State, followed by a visit from No. 16 Michigan.
“We’re growing as a team and actually believing we can win against anybody we play,” Marble said. Despite a spirited effort on the road last week, the Gophers lost in double overtime at Illinois and by five points at Michigan while being beaten on the boards in both games. They were stronger around the basket this time, but not enough down the stretch. They used their superior athleticism and quick hands to turn steals into fast breaks – their greatest strength – in the first half to take a 32-21 lead. But Gatens closed the half with a pair of 3-pointers, and continued sloppiness by the home team helped Iowa ride a 23-6 run that bridged the intermission and built a lead that was never relinquished.
The Hawkeyes tightened up their defense in the paint and around the perimeter, and on many possessions all the Gophers could do was settle for a 3-pointer on the wing after a helter-skelter series of frantic expressions and frustrated passes. Minnesota has lost nine straight Big Ten games, dating to their slide last year that pushed them out of postseason tournament consideration. ”We’re just not knocking ‘em down. I don’t know what it is. The ball’s going in the hoop for us in practice, but we get out here in game time, I don’t know,” said Rodney Williams, who had 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Smith was particularly glum after the game. ”I saw guys lose their focus and lose their aggressiveness, and when that happens, that puts you back on your heels,” he said, adding: “It just seems psychologically we’re like a deer caught in the headlights – just frozen.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)