When Tania Davis and Makenzie Meyer went down with injuries less than 10 days apart, I was worried about Iowa’s offense. Combined they averaged more than 20 points and 10 assists per game, and they were also two of Iowa’s best 3-point shooters. To their credit, the remaining Hawkeyes weathered those injuries well for a few games. On Saturday, however, cracks began to show. Iowa relied too heavily on Megan Gustafson, and the other Hawkeyes couldn’t add enough offense in a close loss to Purdue. Tonight, it happened again. Gustafson had another phenomenal game, but Iowa fell 74-65 on the road at Nebraska because they didn’t have enough offense around her.
The game actually started okay for Iowa, as they began on an 8-1 run and the game was tied at 14 after the first quarter. For a second straight game, though, Iowa went cold for a large portion of the second quarter, and Nebraska took advantage, taking a 37-28 lead into halftime.
The third quarter didn’t start any better, as Nebraska’s lead ballooned to 47-32, and Iowa looked like they were on the ropes. To their credit, the Hawkeyes fought back, going on a run of their own to get within 53-47 to end the third quarter. They continued to fight, closing to within three with six minutes remaining in the 4th. Nebraska then stretched the lead back out to double digits and held on for a 9-point victory.
Megan Gustafson led Iowa with 29 points and 18 rebounds. She fouled out with a couple minutes left in the game when Iowa needed her most, though. Amanda Ollinger was the only other Hawkeye in double figures with 12 points and 8 rebounds. Coincidentally, she also fouled out.
Maddie Simon led Nebraska with 19 points, which including going 3-4 from 3-point range. Hannah Whitish had 18 points. She wasn’t flashy, but seemed to hit big shots when Nebraska needed them most. Taylor Kissinger was Nebraska’s last player in double figures with 12 points and 8 rebounds. Full game stats are here.
Just pencil Megan Gustafson’s name into this section every night. She’s so consistently good it’s hard to properly describe. Her 29 points kept Iowa close all night, and it’s even more impressive considering she’s double and triple-teamed night in, night out.
Amanda Ollinger was another bright spot. She hasn’t shot well all season—and usually isn’t much of a scoring threat—but tonight she provided 12 key points to go with her typically strong rebounding numbers. She also led Iowa’s 4th quarter comeback effort, scoring a couple baskets on a steal and offensive rebound to spark a mini Iowa run.
Iowa players and coaches have used the word “grit” to describe the team’s mentality after suffering the injuries to Meyer and Davis. I’ll use another—resilience. It would’ve been easy for Iowa to pack it in when they were down 15 and nothing was going their way. Instead, they rallied back and made it a ballgame.
While there are a lot of things Iowa isn’t doing great right now, the most glaring issue is their lack of scoring balance. Since the injuries to Davis and Meyer, Iowa has relied on Kathleen Doyle and Alexis Sevillian to help Gustafson score. Against Purdue, they combined to shoot 5-28 from the floor. Tonight, they were 2-15. Worse yet, no one else has stepped up as a second or third scorer in the last two games.
Doyle’s biggest problem is that her jump shot has abandoned her. She’s not the best shooter anyway, but in the last two losses she’s made few—if any—jump shots. She’s still driving to the basket okay, but if she can’t prove she can make long shots, defenders will start playing off her and make driving harder.
Sevillian’s problem seems to be more that she’s going through a slump. She hasn’t shot nearly as well over the last few games, and it seems like her confidence might be impacted. Tonight she shot only four times, with one coming in the final seconds of the game when things were decided. Iowa can’t afford one of its best shooters to take onlyfour4 shots if they hope to beat a decent team on the road.
The result of Doyle and Sevillian’s off nights are easily apparent in the stat sheet. Iowa didn’t make any 3-pointers tonight, and only attempted seven. They also struggled from the field as a team, shooting only 40% when they usually average nearly 50%. Gustafson also accounted for 13 of the team’s 27 field goals.
One optimistic note is that both Doyle and Sevillian have supposedly had the flu this week. Sickness could help explain their recent poor performances and would give reason to believe their play will improve once their health returns.
I haven’t discussed the officiating in any recap to a game thus far this year. That’s because—in my view—fans are often too fast to blame referees for bad outcomes for their teams. Bad calls happen in every game. Most of the time, though, they go against both teams and any discrepancy can usually be attributed to human error or chance. That being said, refereeing at the NCAA level is a job, and if an officiating crew has a particularly poor outing, it’s fair game to scrutinize their performance.
The referees tonight were bad. To truly appreciate why they were bad, though, it’s important to understand how Big Ten games are usually called. Thus far this season, Big Ten officials have been conservative in calling fouls. They’ve let players battle in the post for positioning and rebounds. They haven’t called fouls on shots near the basket where there was minimal contact. The reason for that—I imagine—is because contact in basketball is inevitable, and calling a billion fouls makes games no fun to watch.
Tonight, however, any contact anywhere on the floor was whistled as a foul. There were more and-ones than I could count, and I’d guess on replay for about half of them announcers and fans alike were left to wonder if the defender even touched her opponent.
There’s no need to take my word for it, though. The stats tell the story. Coming into the game, Iowa averaged 11.6 fouls per game, which was the fewest in the NCAA. Nebraska, meanwhile, averaged 17.6—good for 196th in the nation. Tonight? Iowa was whistled for 26 fouls, while Nebraska was called for only 15. Iowa didn’t decide to play hockey tonight. Their playing style didn’t magically change in one game. No, the only difference between tonight and the rest of the season was the identity of the officials in charge of the game.
I won’t attribute the loss tonight to officiating—Iowa did too many things poorly—but I sure as heck hope this crew doesn’t officiate another Iowa game this season.
Iowa doesn’t get long off, as they return to action on Sunday, January 21st (3 PM CT, BTN Plus) on the road at Minnesota. The Gophers are 14-5 on the year and 3-3 in Big Ten play.