It wasn’t the high-scoring, even affair most expected. Nor did it have the drama of No. 4 seed Louisville’s 57-55 win over No. 13 seed Cal-Irvine earlier in the day.
Even Iowa C Adam Woodbury, best known for thrice poking opponents in the eye, experienced a confrontation-free evening in the seventh-seeded Hawkeyes’ 83-52 win over 10th-seeded Davidson Friday night at KeyArena in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Instead, what fans witnessed was a well-coached Fran McCaffrey team displaying the virtues of Big Ten basketball en route to Iowa’s first NCAA tournament win since it beat Creighton in 2001. The 31-point victory was the Hawkeyes’ largest in 53 NCAA tournament games.
Some might call Iowa’s style boring.
Fans of former Washington State coach Tony Bennett and his father, Dick, might say it’s beautiful.
The facts: The Hawkeyes committed all of five turnovers. They shot 50.7 percent from the field. And they used man-to-man defense, plus the occasional token press, to hold the Wildcats to 33.3 percent shooting. This wasn’t Phi Slamma Jamma. Both teams combined for 10 fast-break points.
Davidson (24-8) entered averaging 79.9 points per game, sixth in the country, but in no way looked the team that won the Atlantic 10 regular season title.
The Wildcats’ issues in the first half were two-fold: Iowa’s press helped it hold them to 37.9 percent shooting.
“We started our offense 40 feet from the basket rather than 15 to 17 feet from the basket,” said Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “The fluidity of our offense is disrupted by that.”
Senior guard Tyler Kalinoski, the A-10 Player of the Year, picked up his third foul with a little more than eight minutes left in the first half and had to sit until halftime. He finished with just five points.
He was one of many bothered by the Hawkeyes’ size advantage — four of their five starters are 6-foot-6 or taller. Along with the play of senior forward Aaron White, who made 11-of-14 shots and finished with 26 points and six rebounds, size was probably the biggest separator.
Iowa outscored Davidson 36-26 in the paint and 13-5 on second-chance points.
“Looking at the roster size before the game, I knew I had a size advantage to whoever I was guarding,” White admitted.
The Hawkeyes play Gonzaga Sunday at 4:10 p.m. PT at KeyArena in the NCAA tournament’s third round. No. 2 Gonzaga beat No. 15 North Dakota State 86-76 in the final of four Friday games.
To its benefit, Gonzaga is familiar with Iowa’s grinding style after spending the year playing in the West Coast Conference, where less athletic teams try to shorten the game to make up for the talent disparity.
“There’s probably at least three to even four teams I can think of in our league that really kind of like to play possession basketball and get everybody back on D and set their defense and play pack line,” coach Mark Few said Thursday. “So I think probably more than in years past we have had a lot of games like that.”
The Hawkeyes, though, don’t always try to slow it down.
White indicated that Iowa’s pace during the regular season was a function of playing in the Big Ten, where fast-break buckets are about as common as a 60-degree winter days in Madison.
The Hawkeyes are 21-1 this season when they score 64 or more points.
“We always harp on getting consecutive stops so you can make runs,” said guard Mike Gesell Friday after chipping in 15 points. “We did a great job of that tonight. And then our wings really got out in transition and ran.”
Iowa has more talent than any team Gonzaga saw this season in the WCC. White entered Friday as the only player in the country to average 16-plus points, 7-plus rebounds, while shooting above 50 percent and making better than 80 percent of his free throws.
McKillop predicted that White will be a first-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft. He’s scored 20 or more points in six consecutive games.
“I said yesterday I thought he was a first-round pick and how high in the first round would be dictated by how he does in this tournament,” McKillop said. “He certainly validated what I said yesterday.”