McCaffery's tirade turned the tide for No.4 Wisconsin, as the Badgers ripped off a 17-8 run following McCaffery's ejection and held on to earn a 75-71 victory at the Kohl Center Sunday night. "We haven't really been in that type of situation much this year, so it was great to see us respond the way we did," said junior Josh Gasser. "Obviously that quick turn of events sure helped out a lot. We really got to see the grit, toughness and composure that we have as a team."
Off to its best start since the 1913-14 season, Wisconsin (15-0, 2-0 Big Ten) got 19 points from senior Ben Brust – all coming in the second half – along with 14 points from Gasser and at least eight points from four other players in a wild, whistled-filled contest that was elevated by that quick sequence of events with 11:52 remaining.
No.22 Iowa (12-3, 1-1) led by as many as 11 points in the first half, but were trying to hold on to a 41-39 edge despite starting the second half 2-for-14 from the floor, a stark turnaround from the 46.9 percent it shot in the second half.
That might have been the spark that lit McCaffery's fuse and after Gab Olaseni was whistled for Iowa's fifth team foul in a span of 3:40, McCaffery lost his cool. Admitting he was pushing for the first technical, which was given to him, McCaffery was shown the gate after bumping into another official as he went on his tirade at midcourt.
"The momentum was shifting, clearly, for a variety of reasons," said McCaffery. "Some of which is under our control, some of it's not. If I am going to get a (technical), typically, there is still 12, 13 minutes to go. There's time for us to figure out if we're going to play better, are we going to play tougher, are we going to play smarter than we were playing."
McCaffery proceeded to storm halfway to the official located under the far baseline before being restrained by his assistant, went into Iowa's team huddle to deliver some words of encouragement and stormed off next to the Wisconsin student section.
He refused to go into detail what he said to officials or what his issue was with the officiating following the game, saying he was unable to do so.
"I don't know exactly how it affected us," said sophomore guard Mike Gesell. "I trust in everything in Fran. I know he had a reason for what he did. I don't know how it affected us."
McCaffery also denied that the technicals were the difference in the game, while Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan thought the Badgers were making a push leading into that brouhaha, cutting a nine-point lead down to two in a four minute stretch early.
"When things like that happen in the game, you just go to the line, shoot your free throws and keep playing," said Ryan.
Brust admitted the momentum did swing from that point, starting with him making what he called the four hardest free throws of his life to give the Badgers their first lead since 3-2, sparking an 18-8 run over the next four minutes that re-energized the building.
A lot of the attention coming into Sunday was Badgers-turned-Hawkeyes forward Jarrod Uthoff (six points in 16 minutes) playing his first game since transferring from Wisconsin at the end of the 2011. In the end it was the Hawkeye-turned-Badgers guard Brust that made the difference.
Brust went 5-for-6 in the second half, 3-for-3 from 3-point range and 6-for-6 from the free throw line, helping the Badgers shoot 52.2 percent collectively as a team in the second half.
"I think I just stopped thinking out there and went out and played basketball," said Brust. "We didn't play basketball in the first half. We were kind of playing tentative and not being ourselves. We talked at halftime, made some adjustments and a couple shots got us going early."
Wisconsin also got an assist from Sam Dekker, who was stuck in a 0-for-9 slump until his 3-pointer at 2:21 made it 67-63, a bucket he set up off his own offensive rebound, and his 3-point play at 1:06 made it 70-63.
"That's basketball," said Dekker. "It's going to happen once in awhile."
After going 4-for-9 from the line in the first half, Wisconsin went 21 of 26 in the second half, including 16-for-19 after the McCaffery implosion.
"I am sure Coach McCaffery regrets that," said Gasser. "Probably not the smartest thing in the world, but it helped us out. I am not complaining."
Three days following its most complete first half of the season, the beginning of the game was brutal. Not only did the Hawkeyes shoot 8-for-15 to start, Wisconsin missed 12 consecutive shots after hitting a 3-pointer on its opening possession, causing a 15-4 deficit that was the largest UW had faced since Nov.12 against Florida.
"This is a good group that can respond to adversity, because we have a bunch of guys who can light a fire underneath us," said Dekker.
Frank Kaminsky tried to light the fire by hitting three 3-pointers in the first half, leading a 14-6 run to cut the lead to 21-20, but Iowa closed the half on a 14-4 run to lead 35-24 at the break.
Dekker and Brust went a combined 0-for-9 in the first half. They finished 7-for-21, hitting just enough shots to keep the Badgers unblemished.
"We found just enough plays to get it done," said Ryan. "A lot of work needs to be done."