Howe: Road Block

For the first time this season, Iowa came into a conference game as the favorite to win. That didn't translate onto the floor, as the Hawkeyes fell, 79-73, to visiting Nebraska. It was a step back for a team looking to move in the right direction.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Just when you think Iowa basketball might have turned that corner - BAM - the Hawkeyes hit another wall. Thursday, the step back came at the hands of Nebraska.

Iowa came into the game as a six-point favorite, the first time in 2011-12 they were giving points in a Big Ten contest. The Hawkeyes were uninspired, playing lackadaisical in the effort areas - defense and rebounding.

No disrespect to the Huskers, who played harder and deserved to win here, but this was a game a rebuilding Iowa program needs to take at home. Yes, it's been a topsy-turvy season in conference play, but this outcome had to disappointing for the Hawkeyes and there fans.

Iowa built an 11-point, second-half lead and seemed to let off the gas. It's not a team good enough to do that.

"We couldn't get a stop when we needed it," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "I don't think I'm saying anything everyone in this (media) room doesn't already understand. You saw it.

"It's disappointing because, I mean, defensively that's about as bad as you can play."

No way should people have felt that Iowa was beyond stumbles on its journey back to respectability. Thursday's pill was tough to swallow because after a nine-day layoff, the Hawkeyes lacked the energy needed to close the deal.

Nebraska arrived in Iowa City dragging a 2-6 league mark behind it. It hadn't had its conference bye. It played for the third time in nine days.

The Huskers (11-9) shot 27 of 52 (51.9 percent) from the floor. They'd been shooting 37.3 percent in league play before Thursday.

Nebraska's Brandon Richardson scored 25 points, 18.5 above his average this season. He scored in double figures only five times this year before Thursday. He'd been 12 of 40 from beyond the arc and hit 6 of 7 from three against Iowa.

Yes, the visitors shot better than had been their norm. They also had a lot of open looks and escorts to the rim as Iowa again struggled with defending dribble penetration.

Making matters worse, Nebraska enjoyed a 34-27 advantage on the backboards. Twelve of those caroms came on the offensive end.

Iowa was playing short-handed on Thursday. It had nothing to do with injuries.

Two faces of the program coming into the season, Bryce Cartwright and Melsahn Basabe, saw very little playing time down the stretch on Tuesday. It's fair to say their seasons have been a disappointment.

McCaffery readily sits them when they struggle, which is the right thing to do with other weapons at his disposal. The problem arises when he's forced to go with four underclassmen and senior Matt Gatens during crunch time. The young guys are talented, but the Big Ten is rugged.

"No effort," McCaffery said of Basabe. "No effort from him tonight. Disappointing."

Iowa needs more contributions and desire from Cartwright and Basabe. They can look at Devon Archie, who ignited the Hawkeyes with his energy when things were going well for the team against Nebraska.

"I thought Arch gave us great minutes in the second half," McCaffery said. "I was very proud of him."

Instead of heading to Indiana at 4-4 in the league, the Hawkeyes (11-10 overall) travel to Bloomington two games under .500 and clinging to life for a postseason berth. Considering Iowa's recent success against the Hoosiers, it's going to be a monumental task to get out of there with a win against a motivated team.

"Overall, it was a great, great win for this basketball team," Nebraska Coach Doc Sadler said. "To go on the road and win a conference game against a team I did not think played that bad."

He has to say that about the Hawkeyes. We don't. Bad loss.

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