IOWA CITY — Dom Uhl is a man of few words.
Iowa's junior forward is the kind of kid you can talk to for two minutes, fire off about 10 questions and maybe get a couple dozen words back in return. He’s a smart guy who speaks several different languages. He just doesn’t speak them any more than he has to. He’s quiet. Real quiet.
But the unspoken message he delivered to Iowa coach Fran McCaffery on Sunday afternoon came through loud and clear.
Uhl had his best game of the season, probably the best of his three-year Iowa career, as the Hawkeyes evened their Big Ten record at 2-2 with a 68-62 victory over Rutgers.
The 6-foot-9 junior came into the season as the second most experienced player on the Iowa roster, but he gradually has played his way from starter to frequently-used sub to hardly playing at all. In a double-overtime loss at Nebraska on Thursday, he was on the court for only six of the 50 minutes.
So his performance Sunday was, well … a really big — and really pleasant — surprise.
“I just tried to bring some energy off the bench defensively and offensively,’’ Uhl explained.
He had only been on the court for a minute or so when he calmly knocked down a 3-point field goal. That’s the first one of those he has had in a month. He ended up playing 23 minutes and finishing with 10 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.
The point and rebound totals were season highs and they equaled his career highs for Big Ten play. The five blocked shots were two more than he’d had all season. One of them came with a little more than a minute left in the game and kept Iowa from relinquishing the lead.
“He had some huge blocks down the stretch,’’ teammate Cordell Pemsl said. “He did everything he needed to do to help us win.’’
The effort wasn’t a surprise to Uhl himself. He said he has been working hard on his skills as his playing time has dwindled.
“You’ve just got to stay positive, get in the gym and work on your game,’’ he said. “That’s all you can do really.’’
McCaffery said Uhl has been doing well in practice and he lamented the fact that he didn’t use him more in the loss at Nebraska. He admitted he liked the way Uhl responded to being demoted.
“He could have hung his head,’’ McCaffery said. “He had a terrific practice (Saturday). I just thought he earned the opportunity to get more minutes and that's the reason we won.’’
Uhl said getting angry or pouting would have been counter-productive.
“It doesn’t really help …’’ he said. “He’s the coach. He makes the decisions.’’
McCaffery said that’s the sort of approach he hopes all of his players would have. He used the word “professionalism.
“It would have been real easy for him to get mad at me and make excuses,’’ he said. “He just kept working. He's here two hours early and working, and he whacks a three as soon as we put him in.’’
The big question, of course, is where has this Dom Uhl been hiding? And will we continue to see this version going forward? Was this a blip on the radar screen or a portent of things to come?
There is no question that if he continues to perform at this level, the Hawkeyes will be a much more difficult team to beat.
“We'll just stay positive with him, encourage his effort level because he gives you that every day,’’ McCaffery said. “We have all seen him play this well and it will be a big impact on our team if he continues to do that.’’