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Iowa running out of time to snap out of slump

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Illinois edges No. 20 Iowa in the second round (0:56)

Malcolm Hill drains the go-ahead bucket in Illinois' 68-66 win over Iowa to advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. (0:56)

What happened to Iowa? It was all good a short while ago, back when the Hawkeyes were 10-1 in the Big Ten and contending for the regular-season title.

Little about the Hawkeyes resembles the team that beat Michigan State twice, won on the road at Purdue, and elevated to No. 2 in the Associated Press top 25 poll.

Iowa looks like a dehydrated runner breaking down with the finish line in sight. It now has dropped six of its past eight games, and those wins came against last-place Minnesota and Michigan after Caris LeVert was sidelined for the rest of the season.

It was hard for the players to pinpoint what has gone wrong after Thursday's 68-66 loss to Illinois in the Big Ten tournament, but they realize time is running out to make it right.

"Shots aren't going down as well for us, we're not playing with as much energy," senior Jarrod Uthoff said. "That's what it all boils down to. We're not playing with enough energy."

Uthoff rattled off one of the symptoms without even knowing he did. Four of the Hawkeyes' five starters, including Uthoff, have averaged 30-plus minutes per game in conference play. That's the most among the top five teams in the league.

Coach Fran McCaffery generally uses a seven-man rotation, so there hasn't been a lot of rest available.

Fatigue might also be why the Hawkeyes haven't been able to pull out games late. Four of their recent losses have all come within a four-point margin, including their home loss to Indiana on March 1.

Peter Jok, who tied his career high with 29 points against the Illini, and Uthoff, who had 20 points, might be the most tired of them all. They have had to carry the offensive load too often.

Iowa has usually had a consistent third scorer emerge. The remaining starters in Anthony Clemmons, Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury average a collective 25 points per game. They totaled only five against the Illini.

Jok had a different take on the Hawkeyes' troubles. He said defensive lapses were to blame.

Iowa entered Thursday's game leading the conference in 3-point percentage defense, allowing opponents to connect on only 31 percent a game. The Illini made nine of their first 17 and finished 10-of-23 from beyond the arc. They weren't hitting miracle shots or a lot of contested shots either. Iowa allowed penetration and kickouts for wide-open looks or had defenders run off screens.

"We're not dialed in on defense as we were in the beginning of the season as a team," Jok said. "We definitely need to pick that up when we start the NCAA tournament."

Part of that includes just playing smarter.

Jok fouled out against Illinois when he was given a technical foul for shoving Kendrick Nunn. Whether the foul should have been called was debatable, but Jok shouldn't have put himself in that position, knowing he had four fouls.

Ultimately, McCaffery will turn to his four seniors in Clemmons, Gesell, Uthoff and Woodbury to help the Hawkeyes recapture the rhythm they had earlier in the season.

"When you're a senior, I think you should realize that tournament play is different," McCaffery said. "It just is. And you've got to be ready."