AMES, Iowa — The Iowa Hawkeyes are about to face a team that just beat them by 32 points with their star player, Aaron White, hobbled by a painful injury.
Now would be a good time for Iowa to prove it can overcome adversity. The Hawkeyes (13-7, 4-3 Big Ten) are in less than ideal shape ahead of Saturday's rematch with No. 5 Wisconsin (18-2, 6-1).
White didn't practice Thursday and is questionable after suffering a stinger affecting both his right shoulder and neck during last week's loss at Purdue. Key substitute Gabe Olaseni has also been limited this week after rolling his left ankle on Monday.
"We want him in the lineup. He wants to be in the lineup," coach Fran McCaffery said of White. "I think there's a good chance he's probably going to try to do something. We're going to see what happens when he gets out there."
Playing without White would present a major challenge for the Hawkeyes.
White has never missed a game in four seasons with Iowa — and he's playing better than ever as a senior.
White, who has been a starter since his freshman year, is averaging a team-high 15.1 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. He's compensated for a shaky jump shot by shooting nearly 62 percent from inside 3-point range and 81.9 percent from the line.
White said the training staff has fitted him with special padding that he hopes will help him play.
"I'm just taking it day by day. I think that's why coach (McCaffery) said day to day," White said. "Each day I've been feeling better, so hopefully by Saturday I'll be ready."
Olaseni is much more optimistic that he'll be in the lineup against Wisconsin. He might even play extended minutes if White can't go.
Olaseni is third on the Hawkeyes in scoring at 8.5 points per game despite playing less than 19 minutes per outing. He also leads the team with 1.8 blocks per game, and he grabbed 16 rebounds in last Saturday's 67-63 loss to Purdue after White left with his injury.
Olaseni was photographed wearing a walking boot on Tuesday, causing a mini-stir in Iowa City. He laughed it off Thursday and declared he'll be ready for the Badgers.
"I appreciate everyone's concern. But I'm doing well," Olaseni said.
But injuries are just one of the reasons Saturday's game is among the most pivotal Big Ten matchups in McCaffery's five seasons at Iowa.
The Hawkeyes were embarrassed by the Badgers 82-50 on Jan. 20, a game during which ESPN's Dan Dakich called center Adam Woodbury "gutless" after he appeared to poke a pair of Wisconsin players in the eye. Dakich will return to Iowa City on Saturday, a development that will no doubt have Hawkeyes fans more fired up than ever.
But what transpires on the court will be much important for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes would move within a game of Wisconsin with a win — and just three of their final 10 opponents have a winning record in the Big Ten.
For Iowa to even entertain thoughts of a possible league title run, it must first respond to the whipping the Badgers gave them a week ago.
"We feel like that game up (at Wisconsin) just wasn't us," Iowa guard Mike Gesell said. "We kind of regrouped after that, and we're trying to get back to what we do."
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