IOWA CITY — When the Iowa basketball team was blown out in a Big Ten road game earlier this season, the response was abruptly positive.
A 21-point loss to Michigan State in which the Hawkeyes once trailed by 33 was followed three days later by a home victory over rival Iowa State. The Hawkeyes went from their worst defensive game of the season to one of their best.
They suffered a similarly lopsided setback Thursday night at Purdue, trailing by 26 points in the second half of an 86-70 loss. And now, three days later they have another home game against another rival.
They obviously are hoping for the same sort of whiplash reversal when they host Nebraska on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"I think when you look at our season so far, every time we’ve come back from a bad loss, we’ve usually responded well," senior forward Nicholas Baer said. "I’m looking forward to another good response against Nebraska."
Baer admitted the situation is very similar to the days following that Dec. 3 rout at Michigan State. He said all the Hawkeyes did then was get back to fundamentals, especially at the defensive end of the floor.
"The first thing you do when you don't play well in a game, whether it's home or away, is address what went wrong," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "What can we fix and what went well? There were some good things (Thursday) night that we need to continue to do, even though it sometimes doesn't seem that way."
The problems at Purdue again were mostly on defense. Baer said the Hawkeyes became too focused on the Boilermakers’ 3-point shooters.
"We tried to lock onto those guys and let their X factor guys get loose," he said. "It just comes down to us staying true to form, staying true to our defensive principles, and unfortunately we didn’t do that. … We’re looking forward to another opportunity against Nebraska."
One of the few highlights again was the offensive play of junior forward Tyler Cook, who scored 18 points in the second half to finish with 24 for the game. Cook now has scored 15 of more points in eight straight games and has averaged 19.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in their three Big Ten games.
Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes have lost all three. A fourth straight conference defeat would be devastating.
They aren’t the only team entering the game with a certain level of desperation.
Nebraska returned four marquee starters from a team that tied for fifth in the Big Ten with NCAA runnerup Michigan last season, but it finds itself with same overall record as the Hawkeyes (11-3) and is 1-2 in Big Ten play. The Cornhuskers, who were ranked 24th (just above Iowa) in last week’s Associated Press poll, also are 0-2 in Big Ten road games.
They suffered a 74-72 loss at Maryland on Thursday and had a difficult time handling Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, a player similar in style and physique to Cook. He gouged them for 18 points and 17 rebounds.
"We've got a good team, this is a great league, and we've just got to keep fighting," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said after the loss. "And regardless of what goes on at Iowa, we're going to show up ready to battle, bounce back, and find a way to get a win."
Cook, like Baer and his other teammates, is hoping it’s the Hawkeyes who can again respond in a positive way.
"Good teams bounce back," he said. "It was a rough one for us (Thursday) night. We’ll obviously work on our play on the road. All we can focus on now is the next game. We’ve got a quick turnaround but I think we’ll be ready on Sunday."