By John Bohnenkamp
It was a missed opportunity for a signature win.
Now, after Saturday’s 99-88 loss to top-ranked Gonzaga on a neutral court, Iowa has nothing but a Big Ten road ahead until March.
What the third-ranked Hawkeyes learned from the Bulldogs, though, are lessons to take into the Big Ten season, which is only days away.
“I think the most important thing is, we’ve got to learn from it,” said Iowa center Luka Garza, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds on a prime-time national stage. “We’ve got a group of experienced guys. We know what it feels like to win big games, we know what it feels like to lose.”
Gonzaga shot better, rebounded better, and defended better (at times) than the Hawkeyes.
“Like Luka said, we have to learn from it,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
What will haunt the Hawkeyes are the points they left behind.
They were 4-of-22 in 3-pointers, 14-of-26 in 3-pointers. Gonzaga’s 13-0 run in the first half kept the Hawkeyes scrambling the rest of the game, yet they still had their chances to get the deficit into the low single digits to make a run late in the game.
“I think that’s a fair point,” McCaffery said about the scoring opportunities the Hawkeyes squandered. “I didn’t expect shooting 4-for-22. We’ve got really good shooters. I thought we moved it, took open shots.”
Gonzaga coach Mark Few said his team’s defense concentrated on Garza, but also wanted to do its best to take away the outside shooting.
The Hawkeyes did a lot of that themselves missing open shots. Jordan Bohannon was 1-of-8 from the field, 0-of-5 in 3-pointers. CJ Fredrick, who was plagued by first-half foul trouble, was 2-of-7 overall, 1-of-3 from three. Connor McCaffery, also bothered by foul trouble, took just two shots.
In Iowa’s win over North Carolina earlier this season, the Hawkeyes had 17 3-pointers as the Tar Heels sent body after body after Garza.
It’s a risk Big Ten teams will be taking, and for the Hawkeyes to be successful, those shots will have to fall.
If the shots aren’t falling, the Hawkeyes will have to defend and rebound, and they didn’t do either against the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga was 13-of-26 in 3-pointers, and made 36-of-70 shots. The Bulldogs had 18 fast-break points.
“They were getting out in transition too much,” Iowa forward Joe Wieskamp said. “They were having their will, really.
“We had to do a better job of finding their shooters.”
Gonzaga had a 49-37 rebounding edge as well, including 16 offensive rebounds.
“We know we have to be tougher,” Garza said. “We’re a better rebounding team than what we showed tonight. And we will be in the future.”
There were positives.
Joe Toussaint came off the bench to score 14 points, 12 in the second half as he became an accelerator for an Iowa offense that stagnated at times. Jack Nunge had 10 points, and was often paired with Garza, providing two 6-foot-11 defenders/rebounders inside.
The Hawkeyes said all of the right things, that they’ll look at the video and figure out the corrections. But Purdue comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, then Iowa goes to Minnesota for a game next Friday.
The Hawkeyes’ hope is to get another crack at Gonzaga when March arrives.
Until then, there’s a 20-game conference path that can get rocky, as the Hawkeyes know.
“We’re on to the Big Ten season,” Garza said, and really, that’s the only approach Iowa needs to take.
Photo: Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon passes the ball against Gonzaga’s defense in Saturday’s loss. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)