Leistikow: Iowa's CJ Fredrick has 'been having good days' with injury, and Sunday was one of them
IOWA CITY, Ia. — When the Iowa basketball team needs a big shot, CJ Fredrick is always ready to aim and fire.
He may not always be the one to get the shot.
But when he does, more often than not, he delivers a bull's-eye.
The silent assassin in the Hawkeyes’ star-studded offensive lineup showed up in a big way during Sunday’s 74-68 home triumph against Penn State.
“CJ Fredrick was amazing,” said Luka Garza, who was the obvious headliner of the day after breaking Iowa’s all-time scoring record with his 23-point, 11-rebound game.
“He’s a warrior,” said Jordan Bohannon, who moved to within two assists of that all-time Iowa record.
Fran McCaffery is probably tired of answering questions about Fredrick’s ongoing injury. But the 11th-year Iowa coach is happy to tell you, simply, what Fredrick means to his 17-6 team.
“The kid is just a terrific basketball player,” McCaffery said, “in every sense of the word.”
If you watched Sunday’s game, you know what Fredrick’s teammates and coach are talking about. He consistently hit big-time shots in by far his most productive game since a painful case of plantar fasciitis cropped up Jan. 7 against Maryland and has forced him to miss four Big Ten Conference games and the second half of another. (Not coincidentally, Iowa is 1-4 in those games.)
Fredrick scored 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting Sunday, a performance of marksmanship that we’ve seen all too sporadically from the redshirt sophomore from Cincinnati because of an injury-filled, young career.
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Fredrick had contributed a total of 24 points in Iowa's previous 11 Big Ten games (seven of which he played).
But when Joe Wieskamp went scoreless in the first half Sunday and Garza, in a high-profile pursuit of Roy Marble’s school scoring record, was shaky at times ... it was like a light bulb went on for Fredrick to find his old self.
And there it was.
“I just try to make the right plays at the right time,” Fredrick said. “If it’s down the stretch that I need to make a big play, I’ll make a big play. I always try to read the game and make the right plays.”
This was the first time in 35 days that he had played full, back-to-back games. That was a significant step for Fredrick that he mentioned.
Fredrick had given Iowa 31 strong minutes during Thursday’s important 77-62 win at Wisconsin. He scored five points that night, but took only four shots while teammates Garza and Wieskamp dominated.
“That was just a great game to judge where I was at and get a game under me — 31 minutes of big-boy basketball,” Fredrick said. “I just felt way more comfortable today.”
And it showed, from the first moments.
With both teams choppy out of the gate, Fredrick stepped up and canned a right-wing 3 for the game’s first points. When he squares up a deep ball, there’s a feeling that it’s going to go in. After all, Fredrick led the Big Ten Conference in 3-point accuracy as a freshman and is hitting 50.8% of long-range shots this season. He scored eight of Iowa’s first 13 points, and the Hawkeyes had an early 11-point lead.
After Penn State surged to regain a 26-25 lead late in the first half, Fredrick responded 15 seconds later with a top-of-the-key 3 to reward some fantastic ball movement. He had 13 first-half points to keep Iowa within 41-36 at the break.
After halftime, Fredrick attempted just three shots — as Wieskamp and Garza emerged — and reverted to his quiet, solid brand of basketball. He had a plus-14 rating, the highest of any player to take the floor Sunday. But he was ready for perhaps the biggest shot of the game.
After Penn State sliced Iowa’s 11-point lead to 67-61, Fredrick called for and received a pass from Bohannon on the left wing, just in front of Iowa’s bench, with 3 seconds on the shot clock. He had the presence to pump fake, take one dribble to his left and fire a 25-footer with a helping defender flying into his face.
As Fredrick tumbled backward and the shot-clock horn sounded, the ball split the net for a 70-61 lead with 4:05 to go.
“He clearly looked like himself tonight,” McCaffery said. "And I thought so the other night, as well."
Fredrick played 58:31 this past 2-0 week and made 9 of 14 shots for 23 points with six assists and, as usual, no turnovers. Fredrick hasn’t committed a turnover since Dec. 19, covering more than 298 minutes of Big Ten play.
Bohannon said there’s something special about Fredrick, in that he came to Iowa wanting to be a Hawkeye. The 2018 Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year was willing to walk on here (over a scholarship offer from Xavier) if it meant he could play for McCaffery, who coached his uncle, Joe, at Notre Dame in the 1980s.
“He came in having pride in wearing that Iowa jersey,” Bohannon said. “I think that’s been the mentality for guys this year. … We aren’t too worried about the name on the back of our jersey. He’s just one of those guys that continues to fight through whatever adversity faces him. He’s the kind of guy you want on your team.”
Bohannon can relate to the intense pain of plantar fasciitis. He dealt with that same injury as a sophomore and played through it. Fredrick seems to be adapting to what it takes to be game-ready.
McCaffery doesn't have him do much in practice. Once his mileage gets to 1½ or 2 miles in a day — which isn’t very much running for a college basketball player — he’ll shut it down. Trainer Brad Floy has been a great help in the rehab process, but there's also luck involved. Some days are good. Others aren't.
He certainly hopes to have more good days like Sunday. Hawkeye fans and teammates do, too.
Iowa plays at No. 3 Michigan on Thursday, then at No. 4 Ohio State on Sunday.
“I’m going to have good days; I’m going to have bad days. I’ve been having good days,” Fredrick said, “and been able to mentally fight through the pain and push forward.
“I was just happy to be out there playing again. Just to be out there, playing back-to-back, it was fun. I just felt I was in a really good rhythm. I was playing at my pace again.
“We’ve got a big one Thursday. I’ll do everything I can to do my rehab with Brad and try to get ready for that one.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.