Free. Throws. Matter. They’re not the most glamorous shot in basketball. They don’t bring crowds to their feet or show up on Top 10 lists. But in close games, or times when an offense is struggling, they can be invaluable. Tonight, they made a significant difference in a close Cy-Hawk series match-up between Iowa and Iowa State.
The two teams played essentially to a draw for most of this game. Iowa jumped out to a 21-11 lead after the first quarter, but Iowa State brought that down to 40-36 by halftime. In the third quarter, Iowa struggled mightily from the floor, going 2-17 in total. Iowa State used those struggles to build a 56-53 lead, but didn’t blow things open because the Hawkeyes went a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line.
The battle continued in the fourth quarter, with the teams exchanging the lead several times. An Iowa State basket with 49 seconds left shifted the lead back to them, 69-68. Iowa immediately called timeout to advance the ball to the offensive end. In the timeout, the Hawkeyes faced a crucial decision. With 49 seconds left, they could burn down much of the remaining clock, but still have time left should they miss and need to foul Iowa State. Alternatively, they could press for a quick shot attempt, in the first 10-15 seconds of the possession, and ensure that they, and not Iowa State, got the last possession of the game.
Iowa chose the latter option. With around 40 seconds left, Kathleen Doyle, in her first game back from injury, drove towards the basket from the left wing and put up a floater. The shot was no good, but Doyle drew a foul. She then stepped to the line and sank both free throws with 36 seconds remaining. Iowa now had the lead, and it was Iowa State’s turn to call a timeout to advance the ball.
In their huddle, Iowa State faced a similar dilemma. They could hold for much of the remaining clock and bank on making a late shot to steal a victory. Or they could press quickly and hope to take a lead and hold it on the defensive end. Like Iowa, they chose the latter option.
Bridget Carleton, Iowa State’s best player, drove towards the basket, and, just like Doyle, drew a foul on a missed shot with 27 seconds remaining. She, too, stepped to the line to take two crucial free throws. Unlike Doyle, however, Carleton missed on the second free throw. Iowa rebounded and called another timeout. The game was tied at 70, and the shot clock was off. Iowa, if they chose, could dribble out the clock, and take one final shot with only a couple seconds remaining.
And that’s exactly what they did. Here’s the result:
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) December 6, 2018
With less than 3 seconds on the clock, Tania Davis stepped back and nailed a dagger three that gave Iowa the rivalry victory they worked so hard for. Iowa State got off one last three pointer, but it went long, and the Hawkeyes secured a 73-70 win.
— Iowa Women's BBall (@IowaWBB) December 6, 2018
Kathleen Doyle led Iowa with 22 points on 7-17 shooting. She played 29 crucial minutes in her return from injury. Megan Gustafson had a relatively quiet night with only 13 points, but she also added 16 rebounds and 3 blocks. Hannah Stewart was the last Hawkeye in double figures with 14 points in only 23 minutes of action. A box score for the game is here.
It’s hard to understate how big free throws were in this one. Iowa went a phenomenal 15-15 from the free throw line, while Iowa State converted only 9-17. More important were the impact of free throws late in the game. Doyle’s 2-2 effort with 36 seconds left gave Iowa the lead and forced Iowa State to go quick on their next possession. Had she missed one, the Cyclones could have taken their final shot with only six seconds left in the game.
Carleton’s missed free throw was even more decisive, though. Had she made both, Iowa would’ve been down one and would’ve needed to hurry like Iowa State did moments before. Instead, Iowa was able to drain the clock and set up Davis’ dagger knowing a miss would, at worst, leave them headed to overtime.
As mentioned, Kathleen Doyle’s return was huge in this game. Early on, her defense helped Iowa build their first quarter lead. In the second and third quarters, she was Iowa’s primary offensive threat when Iowa was struggling to feed their posts. And in the fourth quarter, she hit a couple decisive free throws and also drew an important steal with around two minutes left in the contest. She was the most impactful player on the floor tonight for Iowa.
Things weren’t all great for the Hawks in this one, though. The win over Iowa State is nice, but Iowa has a glaring offensive problem right now, and it starts with Megan Gustafson. The All-American shot the ball only seven times tonight. Seven. Four other teammates took more shots than she did.
The reason Gustafson took only seven shots is fairly obvious: for most of the night she faced a tight double team from Iowa State, with one defender playing her in front and one in back. And for much of the night, Iowa didn’t look to force the issue. Iowa’s guards were good about not trying to make passes that weren’t there, instead looking for their own offense. But Iowa also didn’t exploit the double-team as well as they could have. No one player seemed free for good, open shots despite two defenders occupying a single Hawkeye.
And that’s a problem Iowa hasn’t exploited well in their last four games against Power 5 opponents. Iowa’s offense needs Megan Gustafson to score or, alternatively, they need her presence to free others for great looks. In the last four big games, Iowa’s offense hasn’t done either as well as it should. Iowa’s coaches need to try new sets that focus on finding ways for Gustafson to get the ball. They also need to work more on spacing so that opponents pay a price for their double-teams.
Iowa returns to action at home on Saturday, December 8th at 2 PM CT against IUPUI. They’ll then get over a week off before finishing the non-conference schedule with a home game against Northern Iowa and a road game at a ranked Drake squad that is very good this year.