Hilton is a hard place to win basketball games—especially for the Iowa women’s basketball team. How hard, you might ask?
Damn @IowaWBB hasn't won in Ames since Bush was president.
No, the first Bush. (1989-90)
Time to end that streak tonight.
— RossWB (@RossWB) December 6, 2017
Yeesh. The good news? Iowa State’s home winning streak—much like Nebraska football—is no longer relevant. It was rarely pretty, but Iowa used strong shooting from Makenzie Meyer and a good 4th quarter from Megan Gustafson to knock off the Cyclones 61-55 and earn their first win in Ames since 1989 (it was the first win for a road team in the series since Iowa State won in Iowa City in 2006). The win improves Iowa's record to 9-1, their best start since a 10-1 start in 2013-14.
Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly should get a lot of credit for how close the game was throughout. The Cyclones game plan from the beginning was to play a 2-3 zone that took away Gustafson at all cost. To that end, they had the middle woman of the bottom 3 of the zone front Gustafson all night, while the defender on either side kept as close to Gustafson’s back as possible. The result was that Gustafson was sandwiched between two defenders, and the Hawkeyes were rarely able to get the ball in her hands. In fact, she didn’t taker her first shot until well into the second quarter.
Despite tough defense against their best player, the Hawkeyes led 18-16 at the end of the first quarter. Makenzie Meyer was a big reason for that, as she hit several open 3s when the defense was sticking too close to Gustafson.
In the second quarter Iowa was… able to extend the lead, I guess? It was so ugly for both sides that it’s hard to take away a lot of positives. Iowa won the quarter 8-3 (!), and played good defense along the way, but they began trying to force passes inside that led to turnovers and also missed several bunnies. Their lead at the half was 26-19, but Iowa State was still too close for comfort.
At halftime, Coach Lisa Bluder made some changes, and came out with a better plan to attack Iowa State’s zone. On their first couple possessions, Iowa played a 1-4 low offense (point guard at the top, posts on the block, guards in the corner), and the result was a couple easy buckets from Chase Coley and a 30-19 Iowa lead.
Just when it looked like Iowa was taking firm control of the game, Iowa State responded. The Cyclones found their offense for the first time all night, and with just over a minute and a half remaining in the 3rd quarter, they were able to tie the game at 38.
The game stayed relatively close from that point until the very end. Iowa’s lead in the 4th quarter got as high as nine, but with 27 seconds remaining in the game, it was only three. Iowa State had three open looks at a 3-pointer in the final seconds—thanks to two offensive rebounds—but Gustafson finally collected a rebound with six seconds left and promptly hit two free throws to close things out.
Meyer led Iowa with 18 points, including going 4-6 from 3-point range and 4-5 from the free throw line. Gustafson was Iowa’s only other scorer in double figures with 16 points and 14 rebounds, which is incredible production considering Iowa State’s game plan. Hannah Stewart added 12 rebounds for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa State was led by Bridget Carleton, who had 17 points, though she shot only 3-16 from the field. She made up for that somewhat by going 11-12 from the free throw line. Adriana Camber added 11 points, including three 3s. Bride Kennedy-Hopoate was the Cyclones only other player in double figures with 10. Full stats from the game are here.
This was a great experience for Iowa for two reasons. First, they got to experience a hostile environment on the road for the first time. Several times in the 4th quarter when the game got close the Hilton crowd got loud. It would’ve been easy for the Hawkeyes to rush a shot or make an errant pass. Instead, they worked their offense and earned fouls that got them to the free throw line. Better yet, they made most of their free throws when it mattered most.
Second, they got to experience a team trying to do everything it could to take Gustafson away. I’d expect to see more teams try to emulate Iowa State’s defensive strategy in the future. In the first half, Iowa didn’t do a good job of recognizing how to attack the zone when their #1 option suddenly wasn’t. Too often they held onto the ball and tried to force entry passes that simply weren’t there. In the second half, they passed more around the perimeter and Coach Bluder had Gustafson play more high post. Both things helped create more room for Gustafson to work and the offense looked a lot better.
This was probably Makenzie Meyer’s best game as a Hawkeye, and for more than just shooting. In the 4th quarter, she had a couple good passes that setup baskets that helped stave off Iowa State runs. She also played solid defense all night, frequently stopping drives by Iowa State guards without receiving a foul.
Speaking of good defense, Kathleen Doyle was a big reason that Carleton—Iowa State’s leading scorer—had such a bad night from the field. When Iowa was playing man defense, Doyle drew Carleton more often than not and guarded her close all night despite having a height disadvantage.
Iowa returns home to play Arkansas Pine Bluff (2-5) on Saturday (2 PM, BTN Plus).