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Rick Brown: Iowa defense has no answers for red-hot Gophers

[ 0 ] February 25, 2014 |

MINNEAPOLIS – I have to admit I’d never heard of Charles Buggs, Minnesota’s redshirt freshman forward, until he introduced himself Tuesday at Williams Arena.

He’d played a total of two career minutes against Big Ten competition entering Tuesday’s game with Iowa. No points. No rebounds. One assist. Forgettable numbers.

“I saw him in the warmup line, and he looked pretty good,” said Iowa’s Devyn Marble, diplomatically, when asked if Buggs had even been in the scouting report.

Minnesota's Charles Buggs goes to the basket Tuesday night. (AP photo)

Minnesota’s Charles Buggs goes to the basket Tuesday night. (AP photo)

On Tuesday, Buggs became a cult hero in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. He scored 13 points, made 5-of-6 shots from the field and was a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range. Iowa had no answer for him. But the Hawkeyes had no answers for anyone on the defensive end of the floor.

Iowa’s defense needs an about-face like the one Minnesota’s offense turned in during a 95-89 victory. The Gophers shot 61.2 percent from the field, made eight consecutive 3-pointers in one stretch of the first half and scored on 13 consecutive possessions.

Facing a must-win game to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, Minnesota played like a desperate team. And No. 20 Iowa, falling to 19-8 overall and 8-6 in the Big Ten, takes its first losing streak of the season into Thursday’s game at Indiana.

The Hawkeyes’ improvement on defense was one of the best things about last season. But that defense has taken a detour in the last week.

It its previous two games, both losses, Minnesota scored a combined 95 points. That included eight 3-pointers in 42 attempts. That same team was 9-for-11 in the first half and 11-for-19 for the game from 3. This against an Iowa team that entered the game second in the Big Ten and 12th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense.

Asked about his team’s defense, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said, “Um, we need some work. We’ll keep working on it.”

Sooner than later. Iowa flew to Bloomington, Ind., immediately after the game for a Thursday makeup game with Indiana.

Another team that has struggled offensively of late. Another desperate team.

“There was a lack of urgency,” Iowa’s Aaron White said of the defensive effort Tuesday. “We’re not as crisp as we were a couple of games ago. I don’t know the reason. But we’ve got to figure it out. That’s where you’ve got to hang your hat … where you win games.”

Entering last Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, Iowa had not allowed a Big Ten team more than 76 points. The Badgers made 14-of-19 field-goal attempts in one stretch of the first half and ended up winning 79-74.

Then Tuesday, Minnesota made the Hawkeyes look a step slow. It didn’t matter if it was zone or man-to-man. Time outs never slowed momentum. And McCaffery admitted it was a powerless feeling on the sidelines.

“Yeah, they were on fire,” McCaffery said. “But you can’t just say they’re on fire. Can we trap them? Zone them? Press them? You start pushing different buttons, that’s what you do. It’s not as much strategy as sometimes you just change to see if the change works.”

It didn’t on Tuesday. It wasn’t as bad as a 103-89 beatdown at Indiana in 2012. But Minnesota made 30-of-49 field goals. The Gophers had made just 36-of-99 shots in the previous two games combined.

“They’re a good 3-point shooting team,” McCaffery said. “The numbers haven’t bared that out the last few weeks.”

Austin Hollins scored a career-high 27 points, and made four of six 3-pointers. DeAndre Mathieu got into the lane on the bounce with ease and scored 19. Andre Hollins made three of six 3-pointers and scored 14 points. And then there was the totally unexpected 13 points from Buggs.

“We could blame our defense if we want to,” McCaffery said afterward. “But at some point you have to respect your opponent.”

Marble scored 24 points for Iowa, 19 in the first half. And his 3-point play with 90 seconds remaining capped a 13-2 run and cut Minnesota’s once-safe lead to 82-80. But when Iowa needed one more stop, to get possession with a chance to tie or take the lead, Mathieu zipped through the Hawkeye defenders, got fouled and made two free throws.

“They came out and shot the ball very well,” Marble said. “At the same time, our defense wasn’t where it needed to be.”

Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, covers Hawkeye basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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