Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said he believes that avoiding back-to-back losses is one of the hallmarks of a championship team.
The Hawkeyes will try to sidestep a potential losing streak Saturday against a Northwestern team on a bit of a roll.
No. 10 Iowa (15-4, 4-2 Big Ten) goes on the road to face a Wildcats team it pounded 95-67 in Iowa City on Jan.9. But Northwestern (10-10, 3-4) has won three of four since then, while the Hawkeyes are coming off an eight-point loss at 21st-ranked Michigan.
“Any time you get beat, you want to learn from it and bounce back. That’s what we’ll try to do,” McCaffery said.
One of the biggest reasons Iowa hasn’t gone on a losing skid all season is because of its deep and talented bench. The reserves let the Hawkeyes down in Ann Arbor.
Iowa got just eight points from its bench in Wednesday’s 75-67 loss to the Wolverines. That’s nearly 27 points below its season average, and 35 points less than it got in last weekend’s 94-73 rout of Minnesota.
Iowa typically trots out as many as five new players for stretches of a game. McCaffery thought his second unit was sluggish on offense in Ann Arbor, so he leaned on his starters more than usual.
Guard Josh Oglesby, who appeared to have a breakout game against the Gophers with 17 points and five 3s, had just two points against Michigan.
“I have confidence in those guys. I want them to shoot the ball,” McCaffery said of his bench. “The offense seemed to move really slow ... that has to change, and I’m sure it will.”
Iowa was able to get every player on its bench into its blowout of Northwestern 2 weeks ago.
The Wildcats have turned things around with defense, allowing 60 points or fewer in their last four games; they gave up at least 74 in their first three Big Ten games.
Northwestern responded from that Iowa loss with its first Big Ten win, a 49-43 victory over then-No. 23 Illinois that knocked the Illini out of the top 25. Though the Wildcats then lost to league-leading Michigan State, they stunned Indiana in Bloomington, and survived in double-overtime against Purdue, 63-60.
Northwestern looked destined for a poor finish after it was outscored by 25.3 points per game during its 0-3 start. But the Wildcats are now tied with Ohio State in the Big Ten, and can reach .500 in the conference with a victory.
The Wildcats have turned things around with defense. They haven’t allowed more than 60 points in their last four games, after giving up at least 74 points in their first three Big Ten outings.
“What they’ve done is they’ve committed themselves to shutting people down and playing together,” McCaffery said.
The loss to Michigan was Iowa’s first game as a top-10 team in 12 years, and the Hawkeyes were predictably greeted by a charged-up opponent in a charged-up venue. Iowa will see a lot more of that than it has in recent memory, but McCaffery said it shouldn’t affect his team’s focus or intensity.
“I would think we’d get everybody’s attention ... but to me, you have to play the same way,” McCaffery said. “In this league, you’ve got to be ready for everybody.”
No. 10 Iowa at Northwestern
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston
Records: Iowa 15-4 (4-2 Big Ten); Northwestern 10-10 (3-4)
Line: Iowa by 9½
FYI: Hawkeyes beat Wildcats 95-67 in Iowa City on Jan. 9, but ‘Cats have won three of four games since then.