The Hawkeyes senior guard scored a career-high 33 points on his own bobblehead night, production that allowed Iowa to go the final 7:29 without a field goal and still win a wire-to-wire 67-66 decision over Wisconsin in front of a 14,248 fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Thursday.
"He's obviously an unbelievable player," said sophomore Josh Gasser, one of the many players who tried unsuccessfully to slow the senior from Iowa City. "Anytime a streaky shooter gets a couple early, he felt it ever since. We were there for a lot of them, but you have to give him credit. He made some tough shots.
"You think you are playing good defense. Sometimes, it's just not good enough."
As a result, Wisconsin (20-8, 9-6 Big Ten) had its faint conference title hopes all but extinguished, were swept in the regular season by the Hawkeyes (15-13, 7-8) for the first time in the 1994-95 season and allowed the most points by an opposing player since Kansas State's Jacob Pulled scored 38 in the third round of last year's NCAA Tournament.
"As a shooter, sometime you get in those zones," said Gatens, one of the many Iowa players mobbed by a rowdy student section that stormed the court after. "Luckily for me, it's going over a few games. You get in that zone and don't really care who's on you or where they're at, you just want to get the ball and put it in."
The Badgers got 14 points each from Gasser and Ryan Evans, who scored in double figures for the seventh straight game but scored only four points the final 35:29.
"I just didn't continue shooting the ball," said Evans. "Hindsight is 20-20."
Senior Jordan Taylor hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer or with under 33 seconds left for the third straight visit to Iowa City, but he was for all intensive purposes invisible throughout most of the game – finishing with 9 points and four turnovers in just 29 minutes plagued with foul trouble.
Iowa shot 57.1 percent in the first half, 7-for-10 from 3-point range and Gatens, who scored a then-career high 30 points against Indiana Sunday, dropped 18 points – including running his total to 12 consecutive 3-pointers made dating back to Sunday before missing in the second half.
After limiting Gatens to 2-for-9 shooting and six points in the team's first meeting in Madison, the senior equaled that total in the first 180 seconds with a pair of 3-pointers and only cooled during the first 20 minutes when he took a one-minute bench breather.
"He got hot," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "He's on a consistent streak. He's playing really well, and we knew it. You have to give a guy credit when he can knock those down."
Not only was Iowa's 43 first-half points the most UW has allowed all year, it's more than what seven opponents scored in 40 minutes against the Badgers, putting a severe dent in Wisconsin's nation-leading 51.1 points per game.
While the amount of fast-break opportunities was the problem in the first meeting, the problem this time was the turnovers. Averaging 8.96 turnovers a game, second best in the country, Wisconsin's 11 first-half turnovers helped pave the way to 12 points off miscues.
"Big picture, one of the things that cost us the game was we didn't take care of the ball," said Gasser, as UW finished with 13 turnovers. "Off those, they got easy looks around the rim and transition threes that were really their only easy looks throughout the game."
Even with things going against them, Wisconsin appeared poise to answer the barrage thanks to the spark senior Rob Wilson brought off the bench. Down 13, Wilson scored five of UW's next points, including hitting only his fourth 3-pointer in Big Ten play, to make it 51-45 after both teams traded buckets.
More importantly, he did the little things, like tapping out a rebound in traffic that started a 4-on-1 Wisconsin break. The result was a Ben Brust 3-point that cut the lead to 51-48 with 12:53 remaining, as Wilson scored a season-high 11 and Brust added 10.
That's when the Gatens show went into the second act. The senior rattled off eight unanswered points and was responsible for a 10-2 run that effectively ended any comeback hope; punctuated by a fadeaway 3-pointer right in the face of Gasser.
It got to the point where the Badgers simply had to hold up their hands and say, "What can you do?"
"He made some incredible shots," said Brust. "You've got to give them credit. They hit some timely shots. We're making some runs ... they come back and hit some shots."
Wisconsin's final run came after Aaron White (12 points) made a layup with 7:29 to go and Iowa leading 63-52. The Badgers executed a 9-0 to cut the deficit to 63-61 with 20.2 seconds to go.
After a UW timeout, the Badgers fouled Devyn Marble, who missed the front end of the bonus seconds earlier, with 18.7 seconds left. He made both to make it a two-possession game. Evans drew a foul on the other end but missed the front end of the bonus. White missed one on the other end, and Taylor scored with 4.8 seconds left to pull within 65-63.
Fittingly, Gatens sealed the deal with two free throws with three seconds left, vital considering Taylor banked in a three from outside the circle as time expired and the students came out charging, trampling over UW's 8-3 road record in the process.
"We had a good effort (and) never gave up," said Brust. "That's something you are going to get from this team every night. We didn't do the things we needed to do to get the game, to be honest. So we're just going to get back at it, learn from our mistakes and get after it."