NCAA BK

15th-ranked Hawkeyes anxious to host Wisconsin

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP)

Iowa was built to withstand the grind of February better than perhaps any team in the country.

Playing just once in 13 days wasn't what the 15th-ranked Hawkeyes had in mind.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery wasn't sure he even wanted a bye last week after throttling Big Ten-leading Michigan 85-67 on Feb. 8. But the Hawkeyes rested their weary legs and responded with an 82-70 win at Penn State.

Then a metal beam fell from the roof at Assembly Hall in Indiana on Tuesday, just hours before the Hoosiers were set to host the Hawkeyes (19-6, 8-4 Big Ten).

The game was postponed until Feb. 27, and Iowa was left with what amounted to a second consecutive bye week - which is virtually unheard of this time of year.

Though a lot of teams might consider such an extended break a blessing, the Hawkeyes have a 10-man rotation and are structured to wear out opponents with their depth. But according to McCaffery, Iowa won't use rust, travel woes or anything else as an excuse for Saturday's crucial matchup with No. 16 Wisconsin (21-5, 8-5).

''We never make a big deal about it. They don't make a big deal about it. It's on to the next. Big win, on to the next. Tough loss, on to the next,'' McCaffery said. ''My job is to keep them on an even keel and get them prepared and get them ready, and that's what we do.''

Iowa's initial hope was that it could play the Hoosiers on Wednesday in either Bloomington or nearby Indianapolis.

That proved to be unfeasible, so the Hawkeyes flew straight back to Iowa City on Tuesday night. Iowa gave its players the day off on Wednesday and returned Thursday with an intense workout at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The Hawkeyes probably won't know how much the layoff will truly affect them until next month, since the postponement will force them to play four games in eight days.

For now, Iowa's players are taking McCaffery's advice and dealing with it as best they can.

''It doesn't matter to me. It's just an unfortunate situation - well actually, maybe fortunate because a crisis was obviously averted. It could have been a lot worse than it actually was,'' forward Aaron White said. ''It's no big deal to us. Things happen.''

Wisconsin has gotten on a roll while the Hawkeyes were waiting to play.

The Badgers have won four in a row, and now they are arguably the hottest team in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin's early troubles in league play have long been forgotten. The Badgers beat Michigan State and Minnesota at home, then throttled the Wolverines 75-62 last Sunday.

Wisconsin also beat Iowa 75-71 in Madison earlier this season, a game most remember for the McCaffery ejection that eventually earned the coach a suspension and a ton of bad publicity.

The Hawkeyes have won seven of 10 since that loss in Madison to stay within range of Michigan State and Michigan atop the Big Ten.

But a loss would push Iowa back into fourth place, a half-game behind Wisconsin, and give the rival Badgers a season sweep.

With all that at stake, it's actually been easier for the Hawkeyes to focus on Wisconsin instead of the strange events of the past few days.

''Any time you have a loss, our focus is to get revenge,'' forward Zach McCabe said. ''They're a tough team and they've got a lot of great players playing well right now. It should be fun.''

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

Tagged: Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan

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