The approach worked for a little more than a half. Then, the Hawkeyes showed they can win however the opponent wants to play.
No. 10 Iowa broke open a close game midway through the second half and blew out the Wildcats, 76-50. It came 16 days after the Hawkeyes rolled Northwestern, 93-67, in Iowa City when they ran at will.
Saturday, Iowa proved a slow-down game isn't the recipe to beat it. It won for the second time this season when it was held under 80 points, which has happened just four times.
The Hawkeyes led by just six at halftime on Saturday but eventually wore down Northwestern.
"The coaches just told us to get back to the game plan," Iowa Center Gabe Olaseni said during a post-game interview on the Hawkeye Radio Network. "Defensive stops, rachetting up the defensive energy really brings out our offense."
Olaseni and Roy Devyn Marble led a balanced scoring attack with 14 points apiece. Mike Gesell notched 11 for the winners, while Melsahn Basabe, Zach McCabe and Josh Oglesby each chipped in with eight. Olaseni pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds.
Forced into a halfcourt game, the Hawkeyes (16-4 overall, 5-2 Big Ten) registered 17 assists on 28 baskets. They ran excellent sets and delivered the extra pass for high percentage buckets. They also pounded Northwestern on the boards, 39-17.
The Wildcats (10-11, 3-5) came into the game having won three of their last four games since getting routed in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The most points they had allowed in that stretch was 60 and they held two of those opponents under 50.
"Northwestern, they're a very good defensive team," Olaseni said. "I don't think the final score is indicative of how good of a team they are."
Iowa executed its half-court offense. It didn't register a fast-break point until the closing minutes and had only two for the game.
Iowa led by seven, six and a half minutes into the second half of a game that was back and forth. From there, the visitors took over. They put together a 20-5 run keyed by strong defense and unselfish play.
Senior Zach McCabe started the spurt with a lay-up and an assist on three by Marble, who scored seven in the run. Olaseni netted six and Oglesby five during that stretch.
"I think in the first half we were being too methodical and weren't really playing our game," Olaseni said. "The coaching staff just settled us down at halftime and told us to get back to doing what we do. Defense was big."
While the goal was to be patient and find holes in the Hawkeyes' half-court defense, Northwestern was forced into tough shots throughout the day. The Wildcats finished 20 of 55 from the field, including 4 of 20 from behind the arc. In the two games against Iowa, they were a combined 43 of 114 (37.7 percent) from the floor and nine of 44 (20.4) on treys.
"What I told the guys, we didn't play our game at Michigan," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said during his post-game interview on the Hawkeye Radio Network. "We still were in position to win but we didn't fight the way we've been fighting. With all due respect to Michigan, because they had a lot to do with why we didn't do some things, I thought we were better than what we played at Michigan. And I wanted to prove it against a team that was 3-1 in their last four games and playing extremely well."
Iowa comes off its two-game road trip to play host to No. 3 Michigan State on Tuesday (6 p.m., ESPN). The Spartans are 7-0 in the league heading into Saturday night's home game against rival Michigan.
"Tom Izzo has put together a team that he thinks, and most other people think, including myself, has a legitimate chance to win the national championship," McCaffery said. "For us, it's a tremendous challenge. It will be a great atmosphere in Carver-Hawkeye. I'm really looking forward to it."