IOWA CITY - Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery has this expression he uses in nearly every interview or news conference.
If his team or an individual player isn't doing so well, he'll say they're "sideways."
On Saturday, his team at least got back to moving forward. It might not have been a giant step, but it was preferable to what happened earlier in the week, when the Hawkeyes were blown out by Creighton and Campbell.
They righted the ship a little Saturday as Matt Gatens scored 22 points and got significant help from Bryce Cartwright, Zach McCabe and Devyn Marble in an 82-72 victory over IPFW at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"I think it's a step back in the right direction," said Marble, who contributed 11 points off the bench. "We didn't play a perfect game. I think we shot the ball fairly well but it wasn't a perfect game, but we still dug out the win. So that was a good sign."
McCaffery also seemed satisfied, although he conceded the Hawkeyes (4-2) aren't exactly where he had hoped they'd be going into a game with Clemson on Tuesday in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
"We're not completely sideways, but we're struggling a little bit more offensively, we're struggling a little bit more defensively ..." McCaffery said.
"But I think the good thing is different players are stepping up. I thought Marble was great today. I thought Cartwright was great today. He hadn't been so good, admittedly."
No one except possibly Gatens was very good in the lopsided losses to Creighton and Campbell. But Cartwright seemed more energetic in collecting 12 points and five assists Saturday. And McCabe knocked down 12 points in his first start of the season.
"We needed this, not just to get a win but to build some confidence back up," Gatens said.
"We need every win," Marble added. "I think this is good for our confidence going into the Big Ten-ACC Challenge."
But, as he noted, it wasn't perfect.
For the third straight game, the Hawkeyes allowed an opposing team to shoot better than 50 percent from the field. For the third straight game, they were outrebounded. And for the third straight game, they allowed an opponents' star to go off for 20 or more points despite having special attention devoted to him.
On Saturday, it was IPFW's Frank Gaines, who rolled up 25 points in 29 minutes. The 6-foot-4 swingman probably could have had more if he hadn't spent so much time on the bench in foul trouble.
"If you mark a guy, he can't come in and get 25," McCaffery said. "I think that's the thing that's disappointing, because you can't cover a guy that talented who has got that much of a green light with one person. That's a collective recognition.
"Where is he going? He's going left. You could watch one possession and know that he's going left. And he's got an uncanny ability of going left, everybody knows he's going left, he goes left anyway and he's still successful."
With Gaines and 6-8 Mario Hines leading the way, the visiting Mastodons (2-2) got to within three points of the Hawkeyes (59-56) with 8 minutes, 16 seconds remaining.
The Hawkeyes pushed the lead back to 10, but IPFW kept clawing back and was only down four (73-69) before McCabe threw in a short hook shot and Marble scored in close to make it 77-69. Gatens dropped in four free throws in the final minute to finish them off.
The Mastodons shot 52.3 percent from the field, 60.9 in the second half, but the Hawkeyes more than matched them, hitting at a 54.9 pace, 63.6 after halftime.
- Iowa coach Fran McCaffery changed his starting lineup for the first time all season, giving Zach McCabe just the third start of his career and benching Devon Archie, who played just 9 minutes in Wednesday's loss to Campbell.
"I thought we had to make some change," McCaffery said. "But it was easy, because Arch sprained his wrist in the previous game."
Archie did not play Saturday while McCabe contributed 12 points.
- Andrew Brommer had played just 15 minutes in the first five games because of a knee problem, but he played 21 solid minutes Saturday and was "the difference in the game," according to McCaffery.
"It's been awhile since I've been able to actually contribute," Brommer said. "It felt good to do that today."
- Melsahn Basabe scored just two points for the third straight game. He started but played only 11 minutes after getting into foul trouble. The Hawkeyes' No. 2 scorer, Eric May, also played only 11 minutes.