It’s been a tough ten-day stretch for the Iowa women’s basketball team. First, they needed an amazing second half to come back from a 24-point deficit against West Virginia. Then they suffered a close loss to Florida State and were overrun by the nation’s best at Notre Dame. The Hawkeyes needed a game to take a breath and get their confidence back.
It was a perfect time for them to be playing Robert Morris. The Colonials were 1-5 coming into this one, and all indications were that Iowa would roll. They would get their starters back on track in the first half, take a commanding lead, then get the backups some experience as they ran out the clock.
Things didn’t quite go according to that plan in this one. Iowa did jump out to a fairly big lead early. They were up 12 at the end of the first quarter, and the lead got as high as 20 in the second quarter. Then Robert Morris began to chip away. The Colonials closed the second quarter on an 8-0 run, and were down only 12 going in to the break.
Much of the third quarter went in Robert Morris’ favor. They continued to chip away and pulled to within four midway through the quarter. Eventually Iowa regained a little momentum, and took a 67-58 lead into the 4th. Iowa finally took over in the final period, and went on to win comfortably 92-63, but the game was much closer than the final score indicates.
Megan Gustafson led Iowa with 32 points and 12 rebounds on 13-15 shooting. It’s fair to wonder if Iowa would’ve won this at all without her dominant play in the post. Fellow post Hannah Stewart also had another good game with 16 points (6-8 shooting) and 9 rebounds. Makenzie Meyer was the last Hawkeye in double figures with 12. A box score is here.
It’s finally time to admit that turnovers are a problem for this Iowa team. They had 17 on the day, including 9 in the first half. Those turnovers kept Robert Morris in this one, as Iowa was shooting very well from the floor, but saw far too many possessions end with no shot attempt. Even worse, the turnovers were a team-wide issue. 8 different players had turnovers in a game where only 10 Hawkeyes actually played.
The turnover problem, to my eye, comes in two categories: 1) sloppiness, 2) laziness.
Sloppiness turnovers happen mostly due to a lack of focus. It’s forcing a thirty or forty foot pass down court when a player isn’t open. Or a guard throwing a cross-court pass without the height or velocity to get over all the defenders. Or a post bringing a rebound down too far so that a defender can come in and tie it up. A few of these are expected in every game, but they’re happening too often at the moment. Against Robert Morris, you can get away with them, but against Florida State, they result in you losing games you shouldn’t.
Laziness turnovers occur when Iowa is trying to force passes early in the shot clock that aren’t open. The best example is post-entry passes when the post, usually Gustafson, is covered or double-teamed. The problem with them isn’t the idea—Iowa should want to get Gustafson the ball. No, the issue is that Iowa can get better looks when they wait. If they swing the ball more, it gets the defense moving. It allows room for penetration and space for the posts to work. Once the posts have more space, or guards have breached the defense, post passes become much easier to make and finish.
The turnovers are lazy because they’re an attempt to get an instant payoff rather than working for something better. Sometimes laziness actually pays off. Gustafson is really good, after all, and can works wonders in the post. But too often, the laziness doesn’t. It ends with a turnover that kills Iowa’s possession and gives the opponent a chance to run.
If Iowa really wants to compete for a Big Ten title and a deep post-season run, they need to reduce turnovers in both categories.
Another concern that today’s game highlights is Coach Bluder’s apparent lack of trust in Iowa’s freshman. Bluder has generally preferred an eight woman rotation this season, with freshman post Monika Czinano being the eighth woman in. Czinano’s production has been inconsistent this season, though, and when games have gotten close, Bluder’s rotation has been cut to seven.
More worrying is the lack of playing time for Czinano’s fellow freshmen Tomi Taiwo and Logan Cook. Today looked like a perfect opportunity to get them some meaningful experience. The Hawks were playing an inferior opponent and held a clear edge in the post. For much of the game, though, Cook and Taiwo were not on the floor. They combined for only 7 minutes, with many of those coming late after Iowa had an insurmountable lead. There’s still plenty of time this year for both to develop, but if they’re not seeing the floor against Robert Morris, it’s tough to imagine them playing against Big Ten opponents.
Finally, one positive from this game is that Iowa’s 3-point shooting rebounded somewhat from some lousy recent performances. Iowa’s poor 3-point shooting the past three games has been one of the reasons they have struggled. Tonight, the Hawks shot 8-20 (40%) from 3-point range. I’m sure Iowa will hope to shoot even better most nights, but 40% is a lot better than things have been recently.
Iowa returns to action at home against Iowa State on Wednesday, December 5th at 7 PM CT (BTN Plus). The Cyclones are 6-1 on the season, and were ranked #23 in this week’s Associated Press poll. They did lose a close game to South Dakota this week, though, so they might well fall out of the rankings before Wednesday’s game. Still, if the Hawkeyes don’t show up with something close to their A game, they could easily lose this game.