IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Big Ten opponents defended Iowa two ways last season — double-teaming Luka Garza and getting physical with Joe Wieskamp.
The Garza defenses rarely worked. He finished the season scoring at least 20 points in 16 straight conference games.
The Wieskamp defense did work, especially at the end of the season.
Now the junior knows how to handle what's coming at him, and it's showing as the No. 11 Hawkeyes (15-6, 9-5 Big Ten) try to get out of a midseason slump. They visit No. 21 Wisconsin (15-7, 9-6) on Thursday night.
The guard-forward, averaging 15.4 points for the season, shot 16 of 27 in the two games, including 10 of 14 on 3-pointers. Wieskamp is averaging 17.9 points and 6.9 rebounds in Iowa’s last nine games, shooting 56 of 102 (54.9%) from the field, 31 of 51 (60.8%) on 3s.
“I’m trying to play with confidence, play aggressively,” Wieskamp said. “I know I’m a great shooter, and I’m going to continue to shoot it.”
Garza said Wieskamp has elevated his game to an elite level recently.
“He’s playing like one of the best players in the country,” Garza said. "He’s playing like an All-American.”
Forward Jack Nunge said Wieskamp's perimeter shooting has created space for teammates.
“It seems like every time he shoots it, you think it’s going in," Nunge said, “and a lot of times it has been. He’s been on fire from three the last couple of games.”
Iowa’s perimeter offense looked different last year after Jordan Bohannon, the program leader in 3-pointers, had hip surgery for the second time and missed most of the season. CJ Fredrick, a 46% 3-point shooter last season, missed five Big Ten games with various injuries.
That allowed teams to go after Wieskamp, and he didn't handle it well. He averaged 8.2 points over the final six games, shooting just 14 of 53 (26.4%) from the field and 3 of 21 on 3s (14.3%).
Wieskamp said he could only adjust to getting bodied up by experiencing it.
“This being my third year, I’ve really gone through it," he said. "Last year was tough for me for stretches because they were so physical with me. And I think at times, I didn’t know how to react to it. Just going through that has allowed me to learn so much. It’s allowed me to improve a lot as a player, and just being able to play through that physicality, and not let that bother me or disrupt my rhythm or what I’m trying to do.”
Wieskamp showed up from Muscatine, Iowa, ready to play. He's started all 87 games since 2018.
Coach Fran McCaffery said Wieskamp has continued to grow in his confidence and physicality, and he wants him to trust his instincts with no hesitation.
“We’ve always encouraged him to go when he wants to, not to be worried about it in any way,” McCaffery said. “Like, ‘Coach is going to tell me I should be more conservative,’ or ‘I should have made that extra pass,’ or ‘I should have done …’
“No, I don’t want him to be thinking that way. I want him to go. Attack. Give it up when he has to. But he’s got the freedom to shoot the ball. I don’t think I’ve ever said to him one time in three years, ‘Hey, that’s a bad shot.’ ”
Wieskamp said he worked on the mental side of the game in the offseason. Confidence has never been a problem.
“But sometimes when you’re struggling, you’re missing some shots, it can easily get into your head,” he said. "The way they defend me, I’m not going to get an easy shot.”
The Hawkeyes have won back-to-back games since losing four of five, and Wieskamp is looking for a better ending to the year. Iowa lost three of four before the pandemic brought an abrupt end to last season.
“I’ve just got to continue to shoot the ball with confidence, and take good open shots,” he said. “I’ve just got to finish the season strong and shoot with confidence.”
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/College-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25