Coming into the weekend, winning the Hawkeye Challenge looked like a tough ask for Iowa. Their first game was against Quinnipiac, a team that made the Sweet 16 last season and was receiving votes in the preseason AP Poll. After that, they would play another NCAA Tournament qualifier from last season in either #16 Missouri or Western Kentucky. Despite that tough slate, it was the Hawkeyes who came away victorious in their season opening tournament.
Iowa 83, Quinnipiac 67- Coach Bluder Gets Win #700
This was a back and forth game from the beginning, as Iowa held a two-point lead at the end of the first quarter and at halftime, which was trimmed to one by the beginning of the 4th quarter. By all indications it would remain tight right until the end, as Quinnipiac substituted their starters back into the game at the 6:37 mark in the 4th quarter down one. Strangely, just as Quinnipiac’s best players came back, Iowa began its run. Four minutes later, the Hawkeye lead was up to 12, and their victory was all but assured. Iowa used a 20-5 run over the course of those final six and a half minutes to secure victory in the season opener.
Iowa’s run started by the guards being more aggressive and driving to the basket. Sometimes it resulted in them dumping down to Megan Gustafson for a layup, while other times they drew a crucial foul. For the game, Iowa shot 17-19 from the free throw line, while Quinnipiac was only 5-7. Iowa’s run was aided by Quinnipiac going cold from behind the 3-point arc. Throughout the game, Iowa’s strong 2-3 defense forced the Bobcats into a lot of long 3 pointers. Early on they were hitting them, but they cooled in the 4th quarter and ended the game shooting 12-40 from deep. Finally, Iowa had a 50-29 rebounding edge in the game that showed itself most late in the contest when they were able to limit Quinnipiac to one shot per possession.
Kathleen Doyle paced the Hawkeyes with 17 points (4-4 from the free throw line) and 9 rebounds. Megan Gustafson started right where she left off last season, scoring 16 points and adding an impressive 15 rebounds. Tania Davis (14) and Alexis Sevillian (11) were the two other Hawkeyes in double figures.
Jen Fay led the Bobcats with 23 points, though only five of those came in the second half. Vanessa Udoji was the only other player in double figures for Quinnipiac with 12 points.
The Hawkeye victory was the 700th of Coach Lisa Bluder’s career, including stops at St. Ambrose and Drake before Iowa. More on Coach Bluder, including the tribute video played after the game, can be found here.
Iowa 104, Western Kentucky 97 (OT)
Iowa prevailed in the Championship game of the Hawkeye Challenge 104-97 in overtime. Just a few minutes before, though, that result seemed unlikely at best. With 7 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, Iowa was down 85-75 and Western Kentucky seemed to have all the momentum. Instead, Iowa fought back, and over the course of the next 40 seconds, they got a 3 from Kathleen Doyle and an and-one from Megan Gustafson. Just as Iowa got the momentum back, they were punched in the gut again, as Doyle went down with an ankle injury that kept her out the rest of the game. Despite the injury, Iowa maintained its rally, taking an 86-85 lead at the four minute mark, and extending that lead to three moments later.
It was the Hilltoppers turn to respond. After the Hawkeyes went up 88-85, Western Kentucky ran off an 8-0 run of their own, and took a 93-88 lead into the final minute and a half of the game. Again Iowa answered the bell, as Makenzie Meyer nailed a three from the right wing to draw Iowa within two. After a defensive stop with 35 seconds remaining, Gustafson was fouled upon securing the rebound. She went to the other end of the court and hit two high pressure free throws, tying the game at 93.
Freshman Alexis Sevillian came up big on Western Kentucky’s next possession, stealing the ball after a drive to the basket. Iowa’s last look of regulation was a step back three from Meyer that hit off the front rim. The Hilltoppers managed to get a rebound and call timeout with one second left, but their last second 3-point attempt rimmed out.
Finally in overtime Iowa took the lead for good. Sevillian started the period with a huge three, before she gave way to Gustafson, who scored another six. Iowa outscored Western Kentucky 11-4 in overtime.
Gustafson had a monster day for Iowa, scoring 35 points (7-7 from the free throw line) and adding 17 rebounds. Tania Davis also had a good day, scoring 16 points with 9 assists. Doyle had 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists before getting injured. Meyer and Sevillian rounded out the list of Iowa players in double figures, with 12 and 11 points respectively.
Ivy Brown led Western Kentucky with 31 points on 12-16 shooting including going 6 of 9 from three. She fouled out early in the overtime period, though, and her absence was felt, as the Hilltoppers had no answer after she left. Dee Givens added 16 points, though she also fouled out (with less than a minute left in regulation). Taisha Brown (16 points) and Sidnee Bopp (14 points) rounded out Western Kentucky’s double-digit scorers.
Western Kentucky shot a phenomenal 14-26 from 3 in the game, but even that doesn’t truly encompass how well they shot. Because Iowa had the size advantage, they also took a lot of long jumpers and made their fair share. Iowa seemed to be daring them to shoot, and for much of the game the Hilltoppers made them pay for that choice. Importantly, though, the shooting didn’t last. At the beginning of Iowa’s run when they were down 10, they switched to a 2-3 zone and started challenging Western Kentucky’s threes aggressively. That aggression continued even when they switched back to man to man after the run, and was influential in the Hawkeyes shutting down the Hilltoppers in overtime.
For the second straight night, Iowa dominated from the free throw line, shooting 23-25, while Western Kentucky managed only nine free throws, making five of them. Iowa also won the rebounding battle 50-33. Though it wasn’t as good as Western Kentucky, Iowa did go 11-25 from three-point range, including big threes from Meyer and Sevillian when Iowa could not afford a miss.
Thoughts from the Weekend
The biggest concern from the weekend is without a doubt the injury to Kathleen Doyle. Doyle went down with approximately 6 minutes remaining in the match and never returned. Towards the end of the game, she was using crutches to get involved in the Iowa huddle. One positive was that her injury was treated on the sideline and didn’t require her to go to the locker room. Hopefully it’s only a sprained ankle, and she’ll be back in action soon.
My biggest takeaway was that Iowa was tested twice and answered the call both times. Against Quinnipiac, they were up only one with six and a half minutes left, before closing on a big run. Against Western Kentucky, they were down 10 with seven minutes left, and five with a minute and a half left. Both times they managed to come back.
Iowa’s free throw shooting was a big reason they won both games this weekend, as they went a combined 40-44 (91%) from the line. The Hawkeyes’ rebounding was also impressive, as they outrebounded their opponents 100-62.
On the individual side, Megan Gustafson somehow looks even better than she was last year—she’s averaging 25.5 points and 16 rebounds per game. Kathleen Doyle also started the year well, especially on the rebounding front, as she’s averaging 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists.
I was also impressed with the efforts of Alexis Sevillian this weekend in her first taste of Division I action. So far she’s averaging 11 points per game, and she’s already made 6 three pointers. Though she’s made a couple mistakes typical of a freshman, she’s shown that she can make big plays on both sides of the ball and that she deserves her fair share of minutes. Assuming Doyle’s injury isn’t long term, the Hawkeyes should have four quality guards at their disposal this season.
Iowa returns to action on Wednesday at 7 PM CT at Carver Hawkeye Arena as they take on Northern Illinois.