Wisconsin Iowa Basketball

Iowa forward Tyler Cook, left, vies for a loose ball with Wisconsin forward Alex Illikainen during the first half of Tuesday's game in Iowa City, Iowa.

AP

Fran McCaffery never has been inclined to talk about his contract status, and that didn’t change Friday.

A day after it was revealed that the Iowa basketball coach had his contract extended two months ago without any sort of public announcement, he didn’t elaborate much during a conference call with reporters.

"Not hiding anything," McCaffery said. "I had a contract before. Still have one."

He would much prefer to talk about his basketball team, which turned its season in a positive direction Tuesday night. He is hoping the Hawkeyes can build on that tonight when they visit a better-than-expected Nebraska team in a 7 p.m. clash at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

The Hawkeyes (11-11 overall, 2-7 in the Big Ten) finally gave their coach the sort of 40-minute effort he has been looking for Tuesday as they never trailed en route to an 85-67 home victory over Wisconsin.

"I just think we were locked in early from a defensive standpoint," McCaffery said. "I thought our offense was probably the best it’s been in terms of mixing sets and motion and transition and moving the ball effectively. We didn’t just break down and play one-on-one basketball at times. … We were together at both ends of the floor and that’s why it was our most consistent performance."

Leading scorer Tyler Cook did not play in the last 9½ minutes of that game after turning his ankle, but McCaffery said Cook has practiced since then and is fine. He said two reserves who are in the concussion protocol — Ryan Kriener and Brady Ellingson — have not yet returned to practice.

In Nebraska, the Hawkeyes will be facing one of the surprise teams of the Big Ten season. The Cornhuskers (15-8, 6-4 Big Ten) were picked by some to finish dead last in the league, but they are in contention for an NCAA tournament berth, largely because of the addition of two transfers, forwards James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland.

"Those two guys are special," McCaffery said. "They’re two of the better players in our league. Plus, they’re veteran guys. I think that’s helped. … Those two guys, no question, have made a difference because not only are they very good, they’re very versatile."

The Huskers also have benefited from the development of former Dixon High School star Isaiah Roby, who is beginning to blossom as the starting center.

"He was always a good player but he was sort of a skinny freshman," McCaffery said. "But he’s put weight on and has really worked on his body so he’s become one of the more effective players in our league. You can see that in his confidence. That’s why they’ve got 15 wins."

McCaffery said he just hopes his team’s Tuesday night performance is a sign of things to come as it embarks on the second half of the Big Ten schedule.

"We just want to continue to get better," he said. "We always talk about this, let’s just focus on the next game. That’s kind of what we have to do. We didn’t play well last week, we played better the other night, so we made progress. …

"So now can we do it again and again and again and again? That starts with the next game. Tough environment, as tough if not the toughest road environment in our league, with a really good veteran team and a good coach. Our plan is to go up there and be together and play well."

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