It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. While that phrase isn’t always true—see the men’s first half against Purdue yesterday—more often than not, close games are decided in the last few minutes. Tonight, the last few minutes of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters doomed the Hawkeyes to a third straight defeat.
For much of the first half, Iowa and Minnesota were evenly matched. Iowa had a narrow 20-19 lead at the end of the first quarter, and the game stayed tight for much of the second. Then Iowa went on a bit of a run, taking a 36-29 lead with just over 2 minutes remaining in the quarter. A good final stretch would mean a solid lead heading into the locker room. Instead, the Gophers went on a run. They outscored Iowa 8-2 over the final two minutes, and Iowa’s halftime lead was 1.
The third quarter was just as tight as the first two, as neither team seized momentum. With three and a half minutes left in the quarter, though, Minnesota went on a 10-6 run to close the quarter and take a 56-52 lead into the fourth. Their lead expanded to eight in the early 4th quarter, before Iowa battled back and took a brief 67-66 lead with 2:53 remaining. The last few minutes of the quarter would decide the game. For the third consecutive quarter, it was the Gophers that won that battle. The outscored Iowa 11-6 to close out a 77-72 victory.
Kathleen Doyle led Iowa with 21 points on 7-14 shooting from the floor. Megan Gustafson added 20 points and 10 rebounds, though she didn’t look as dominant as she has in the past few games. Hannah Stewart was Iowa’s other double-digit scorer with 12. Full game stats are here.
Kenisha Bell led Minnesota with 21 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals. Her quickness gave Iowa fits on both sides of the floor. Carlie Wagner and Destiny Pitts added 15 and 11 points respectively. Perhaps the biggest story—aside from Bell’s big night—were reserve forwards Taiye Bello and Bryanna Fernstrom. The two combined for 23 points and 16 rebounds including 9 on the offensive glass. They also played strong defense that interrupted Iowa’s low post scoring.
Makenzie Meyer returned for the first time in a month and played the whole game. She scored only 4 points, but added 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. Her presence gave Iowa more guard depth and also helped reduce some of Megan Gustafson’s scoring load.
Another positive was Iowa’s offense that came via cutting guards. Today Iowa often made an entry pass to the block, then had the passing guard cut to the basket. The move often either freed the guard or the post for an open look, or helped them get fouled in the process of shooting. Doyle was the primary recipient, as most of her points came on layups or from the free throw line. That move also helped get one of Minnesota’s leading scorers—Pitts—in foul trouble for almost the entire game.
With 17 seconds left in the game, Iowa was down only one thanks to a 3-pointer from Doyle. Iowa got a quick foul from Chase Coley, and the Gophers had to inbound along the sideline with 14.5 seconds remaining. Iowa got exactly the look they wanted, as the Gophers had to inbound to Fernstrom, a reserve forward who had shot only 17 free throws all season. The problem? Fernstrom was being guarded by Gustafson, who had 4 fouls. Gustafson didn’t foul to avoid fouling out, and the ball made its way to Bell, who ran off a few more seconds before she was fouled. She hit both free throws, forcing Iowa to draw up a play for a three pointer that went awry.
In that situation, Coach Bluder has to get a sub in for Gustafson who isn’t worried about fouling out. Aside from getting a late steal, fouling a reserve forward is the best thing you could ask for in that scenario. Instead, Iowa lost that opportunity and also five valuable seconds.
The above was made worse by Iowa’s 3-point shooting, as making a last second three to tie never seemed likely. The team went only 2-14 today, and both were made by Doyle, who is, at best, the team’s 3rd best 3-point shooter. Meyer went 0-5 from 3-point range in her return, though that isn’t particularly shocking given how long she’s been out. The real surprise is how silent Alexis Sevillian has been in the past few games. She took only three shots tonight, and missed both of her 3s. Whether sickness or a freshman slump is responsible, it’s clear that Iowa desperately misses the 3-point shooting she’s added for much of the year.
As hinted at above, offensive rebounds killed Iowa today. Though they only lost that battle 18-10, most of Fernstrom and Bello’s points came off of offensive rebounds. Those points are particularly harmful to a team, because they take away all the momentum from getting a defensive stop.
Fans often harp on the poor quality of BTN+ broadcasts. Personally I think they’ve mostly been okay this season for the games I’ve watched. There are some freezing issues occasionally, and the announcers aren’t the best, but it’s mostly been fine.
The main gripe I have about BTN+ is the replay system. Too many times today whoever makes broadcast decisions decided fans would love to see a replay of the basket that just happened. The problem? They showed that replay while the game was still going. And the replay is slow. Too many times, I missed an important basket or turnover at the other end because I was forced to watch a basket I had just seen. If I tune in to watch live basketball, I actually want to see the whole game live. Save the replays for timeouts.
Iowa returns to action on Thursday January 25th at home against #8 Ohio State at 7pm. It’s a tough game for Iowa to stop their losing streak, but I think the Hawkeyes will start looking more like themselves soon. A big part of the losing streak has been the lack of 3-point shooting. With Meyer back, Iowa should start improving in that regard. She also adds experience on defense and depth at guard.