Northwestern isn’t a great team this year. They’ve won only two games in Big Ten play and were 9-16 overall. Despite being on the road, then, Iowa was clearly expected to beat the Wildcats in their Sunday matchup. Though it wasn’t pretty, they accomplished that, pulling out a 70-61 win thanks in large part to strong defense.
Iowa jumped out to a 21-13 lead after the first quarter. Northwestern tied the game early in the second after an 8-0 run. Iowa responded with a 10-0 run of their own, and built on it to take a 14-point lead into halftime.
The game stayed in a similar range for the second half. Iowa kept the lead in double digits for most of the way, but never turned it into a blowout. The Wildcats drew within nine multiple times in the fourth, but could get no close than that.
Megan Gustafson led Iowa with 25 points (10-12 from the floor) and 16 rebounds. Kathleen Doyle added 15 points and 6 assists. Makenzie Meyer was the last Hawkeye in double figures with 12.
Northwestern was led by Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah who had 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 steals. Abi Scheid and Lindsey Pulliam added 12 and 11 points respectively. Full game stats are here.
— Iowa Women's BBall (@IowaWBB) February 12, 2018
Iowa’s defense was strong for much of the game. They did a good job of making the Wildcats take poor shots on their first attempt and also held them to only one made 3-pointer. Overall, Northwestern shot just under 38% from the field, but that was at 30% in the first half. The Hawkeyes also did well in the passing lanes, racking up 10 steals in the game.
Iowa also did a great job of drawing fouls and getting multiple Wildcats in foul trouble today. This is something they’ve done well all year, and it could be important to their post season success come tournament time. Gustafson is especially good at this, as teams often have to foul her to prevent easy layups. That she shoots so well from the free throw line also makes it a good offensive strategy for Iowa. Doyle also earned a decent amount of free throw attempts after getting fouled on drives. She’s good at penetrating, and when she’s aggressive she can put opposing guards in a bad position.
At this point, I could probably write a generic section detailing Iowa’s problems with turnovers and it would likely hold true for most games they play. The guards are often too sloppy with their passes or too rushed in transition. The posts bring the ball down too low and get tied up or travel when attempting moves down low. This mostly hasn’t changed all year. Some of the problems are Iowa’s high tempo, but that still shouldn’t lead to 20+ turnovers as we see far too often. Tonight, Iowa had 20, including 12 in the first half.
Iowa also struggled shooting again today, going only 2/7 from deep. Part of the issue is that they simply didn’t need 3s to win this one, so they didn’t take many. Still, Makenzie Meyer is supposed to be one of Iowa’s best 3-point shooting options, yet she’s struggled from three-point range since returning from injury. Tonight she went 2/5, which hopefully signals an improvement is coming.
Finally, Iowa’s effort was lacking at times today. Several times multiple Iowa players were near a long rebound and seemed to wait for the other to go get the ball. The lack of hustle didn’t hurt Iowa today, but it might against better opponents. Effort is something you can control regardless of how you’re playing.
Iowa returns to action next Sunday, February 18th at 2 PM in Carver Hawkeye Arena against Wisconsin. Iowa defeated Wisconsin 56-46 to open Big Ten play. Notably, that was the first game that the Hawkeyes were without Makenzie Meyer and also came after a short Christmas break for the players. Wisconsin is 9-16 overall and 2-10 in the Big Ten.