First things first: Mike Gesell throwing down the Sioux City Sarsaparilla.
That's good... stuff. Get it? Stuff? Like the dunk? Oh whatever, at least I didn't call it a flush.
At any rate, that crowd-pleaser was a nice exclamation point on Iowa's hard-fought 68-60 victory over visiting Illinois on a snowy Iowa City night. Iowa moves to 18-10 (9-6) for the season and solidified its NCAA resume in the process; Illinois is a bubble denizen and should be right in the mix come March.
Aaron White set a career high with 29 points in the win, going 8-13 from the field and 3-4 (!!!!!) from downtown. His spree of 14 straight Hawkeye points keyed a crucial second-half run that tipped the game in Iowa's favor, and Illinois was never able to recover.
This was one of the chippiest games we've seen Iowa play all year. Illinois came out determined to fluster the Hawkeyes with physical play, and it showed: Illinois forced several turnovers early, but also found itself in the double-bonus by the 10-minute mark of the first half. And hey, the Illini weathered some early Iowa offensive fireworks to take a four-point lead late in the first half, thanks to an unconscious first half by Illinois guard Ahmad Starks.
But Illinois' shooting went cold in the second half as Iowa forced more jump shots (Illinois was the worst in B1G play at converting two-pointers at just 41.4% coming into the ballgame; its 12-36 performance inside the arc tonight will not help matters), and White took control of the game. With Illinois up 36-35, White went on the following tear: three-pointer, rebound off a block, layup, steal, layup, pair of free throws, three-pointer, pair of free throws, starting a run that would end with that Gesell dunk and Iowa leading 62-50.
Jarrod Uthoff was surprisingly lackluster from the floor, going just 3-10 (0-4) for six points, but he made up for it with 10 rebounds (most of them contested) and four blocks—his second straight game with four swats. Two of those blocks bracketed the game, providing a nice pair of bookends for what was altogether a pretty solid defensive performance. Uthoff now has blocks in seven straight games and 24 in 15 Big Ten games; call him Jarrod Utombo.
The delicate orchid that is Josh Oglesby's confidence may yet be alive and in bloom; he canned his two three-point attempts, both in monster situations, and threw a pair of absolute dimes in consecutive possessions as Iowa pushed ahead in the second half. He's still not someone the Hawkeyes should be counting on for anything more than spot duty, but a productive Oglesby is a very welcome thing.
Three games remain before the Big Ten tourney, including a pair of road tests at PSU and Indiana. This team is about as capable on the road as any Iowa's had in lord knows how long, so we're not terribly worried that Iowa will come out flat in either game; it's possible, to be sure, but it'd be just as possible at Carver (maybe even moreso) so bring those games on. Iowa's still not a lock for the tourney, but right now it feels an awful lot more like the Hawkeyes are battling for seeding rather than mere inclusion, and that's pretty awesome.
Go Iowa Awesome.