IOWA CITY - Just a few minutes into the Gophers' ongoing experiment against the zone defense on Sunday, Tubby Smith said he could see panic creeping into his players' eyes.
"It was, 'Don't give it to me.' It was like a hot potato," Smith said of his players' reaction. "Get it to someone else, someone else try it. That's what it became."
Iowa likely could see it, too, which is why coach Fran McCaffery had his team maintain the zone for most of the game. It helped the Hawkeyes turn a 16-point deficit into a 72-51 victory.
It didn't take long for Iowa to rally, as the Gophers quickly proved incapable of penetrating, dumping inside or making the shots they were given from the perimeter. The Hawkeyes went into a 2-3 zone -- they also occasionally used a 1-2-2 -- eight minutes into the first half, and five minutes later the Gophers' lead was down to two.
"It was like we had never seen the zone, we'd never practiced against it," Smith said. "We work on it. We play a 2-3. We play a 3-2. We press. I don't know what to say."
Players were short on answers, too. Trevor Mbakwe and Austin Hollins -- the two players made available after the loss -- both said they believed the Gophers were practiced and well-prepared for the zone, knowing full well it was coming.
Mbakwe noted that one of the Gophers' biggest struggles against the zone -- getting the ball inside -- came because Iowa was focused on taking away the high-low pass. Still, the frustrations were evident.
"It's a lot different in practice," Mbakwe said. "It turns into a whole different game."
Zero points for Williams
Rodney Williams has been struggling because of a left shoulder injury he suffered in a Feb. 9 practice. The soreness kept him out against Illinois on Feb. 10, and though he returned Thursday against Wisconsin, he was fouled hard in that game but played through the pain.
After that game, the forward was adamant about not allowing his injury to limit him further. But after playing 10 minutes in the first half Sunday, Smith benched the senior, saying it was injury-related.
Williams wasn't made available following the loss, so it wasn't clear how sore he was. But he didn't attempt a shot in his 10 minutes, finishing with no points and one rebound.
"He was just not himself," Smith said. "I don't know whether he got hit on it or what, but he didn't seem to have much in his tank. He's a guy I play with one arm and I don't want to hurt him any worse than he's already hurt."