What we learned from Iowa’s 81-74 victory over Illinois on Saturday:
-- Iowa does have the toughness necessary to finish out close games in hostile environments. The Hawkeyes blew a 21-point lead and fell behind by five points in the second half, then summoned the resolve necessary to halt Illinois’ momentum and win the game. Mike Gesell and Devyn Marble, either of whom had particularly good games, made several huge plays down the stretch to pull it out.
-- Illinois is a tough, scrappy team, too, and almost certainly is the best last-place college basketball team in the country. The Illini have some young players who could become major contributors down the road. Freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill showed flashes of brilliance as the Illini were erasing an early 34-13 deficit. Nunn played so well in the first half that head coach John Groce started him in place of leading scorer Rayvonte Rice in the second half.
-- Iowa center Gabe Olaseni continues to improve immensely and is becoming a dominant force on this team. Last Saturday at Northwestern, Olaseni reached career highs with 14 points and 11 rebounds. On Saturday, he topped that with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Adam Woodbury undoubtedly will continue to start at center but we’re likely to see a lot more games like Saturday, where Olaseni played 26 minutes and Woodbury 14.