And just like that, it's over.
No. 2 seed Gonzaga was unstoppable Sunday night, blitzing Iowa early and often en route to an 87-68 victory in friendly Seattle, sending the Bulldogs to the Sweet 16 and the Hawkeyes home to Iowa City, their season finished.
Gonzaga shot 61.5% from the field for the day, led by Kyle Wiltjer's 24 points on 10-for-12 shooting. The closest you can come to a Bulldog having a "poor" shooting night was Kevin Pangos, and he only went 5-for-12 for 16 points. Every other Bulldog with even one shot attempt on the game made at least 50%. Gonzaga held a double-digit lead for the last 31:08 of game time, as Iowa never got closer than 11 points in the second frame.
Jarrod Uthoff led Iowa with 20 points, but 14 of those points came in the second half; similarly, Aaron White registered 13 of his 19 points after the break. Iowa registered its 68 points in 67 possessions, which is well off the 1.05 PPP mark that usually portends Iowa's success but also disastrously insufficient against an offense that puts up a hair under 1.30 per.
For as much as coaches, players and fans would like to believe that as long as their team can just Play Our Game™, a win will follow, the truth is that if Gonzaga was on point Iowa was going to be in trouble. Suffice it to say, Gonzaga was on point. The Zags hit 10 of their 16 three-point attempts and over 61% of their twos. Their offense was primarily threes, layups and dunks—there was always someone available to try one of those tactics—and when that level of skill plays with that level of execution, it would have taken the game of every Iowa player's life to give the Hawkeyes a W.
Instead, this was a fairly typical Iowa game offensively: mostly good looks, a few rough patches, big days from the big scorers. Several awfully makable shots barely rimmed out, especially in the first half, and it's fair to wonder how the tenor and tactics of the game change if the margin's sitting at five points instead of 15 midway through the second half.
It's a bummer; you want to see seniors like White, Gabriel Olaseni and Josh Oglesby go out in a blaze of glory, not the frustration of so many shots being an inch too far off the mark. Iowa wasn't about to top the 87 points Gonzaga dropped, not in regulation. But if it's 87-80 and the Bulldogs at least have to sweat a bit, great.
At the same time, Iowa didn't pack it in like Davidson did on Friday—and the opportunity and excuse to do just that were there. Instead, as mentioned before, White and Uthoff went to work after halftime, and Uthoff's 19 total shots attempted proved that he's ready to be the focal point of the offense next year. The guys tried for 40 minutes. Hell, they even kept the final margin under 20. That's obviously small comfort, but they could have packed it in, and they didn't. There's no reason for anyone to hang their heads after a game like this.
So. 22-12. 12-6 in the Big Ten. A 7 seed and a convincing tournament win. An exit only at the hands of an absolute monster of a team. This is the best year Iowa has had in almost a decade. This loss hurts, but it's the kind of hurt that gets players back in the gym bright and early during the offseason to come. This team's trajectory has been up for as long as Fran McCaffery has been in town, and if it stays up for even another year big things are coming.
Let's start giving the Gonzagas of the world more than they can handle in 2015-16. Go Iowa Awesome.