Last year, Nebraska came into Carver Hawkeye Arena and absolutely demolished Iowa. The Husker lead was 30 at halftime, and they cruised home to an 18-point road victory. Fortunately, this year’s matchup wasn’t a repeat of last year. Iowa and Nebraska battled for the full 40 minutes, with the Hawkeyes coming away with a 77 to 71 victory.
The first half of this one was evenly matched. Iowa held a tight 37-34 lead, but the game had gone back and forth several times. A fast, high-scoring first quarter gave way to a sloppy, turnover-filled second period where each team struggled to score.
The second half started much the same, but then Iowa’s defense stiffened and forced Nebraska into a 5-minute plus scoring drought. Iowa’s offense wasn’t great in that span, but they did just enough to take a 10 point lead into the fourth quarter.
The lead stayed in double digits for much of the quarter, and with three and a half minutes left, it was at 12. Despite a scrappy game, it looked like the Hawkeyes would hold onto a comfortable victory.
They didn’t. Nebraska got hot offensively in the game’s final few minutes, and a couple key Hawkeye turnovers helped their rally. The lead got as low as two in the final minute, before Iowa closed things out with a couple stops and some free throws.
Iowa was, of course, led by Megan Gustafson, who scored 28 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. The points didn’t come easy for her, though, as she missed nine shots and four free throws. Gustafson’s issues were twofold. First, Nebraska’s starting center is taller than she is, and is one of the nation’s leaders in blocked shots. She troubled Gustafson defensively for much of the night before fouling out. Second, the officiating tonight was… pretty poor.
My biggest complaint about the officiating was the lack of consistency. The posts guarding Gustafson tonight were making hard contact with her multiple times on every single possession. Every now and again it was called, but most of the time it wasn’t. Guards for both teams, meanwhile, were frequently whistled for fouls when it wasn’t clear any contact was made. There were times when players from both sides turned to look at each other trying to figure out what the latest whistle was for.
The best refereeing crews are ones that are consistent. Some allow teams to make plenty of contact. Others seemingly blow the whistle if they see any contact at all. In either instance, as long as players know what to expect, they can adjust accordingly. Tonight, there was no way to adjust. The same contact on two consecutive possessions would be called a foul on one end and not the other. The result of that inconsistency was a sloppy game filled with frustration for players and coaches on both sides.
Shifting back to talk of Iowa, one thing the team has needed for a while is players not named Megan to step up and help offensively. Tonight was better in that regard. It still wasn’t good, but several other players took over the game in key moments when they were needed.
That started with Tania Davis, who had 10 first half points at a time when Iowa was lacking offensively. Kathleen Doyle also chipped in, scoring the first six points of the fourth quarter on drives to the basket to help keep Iowa’s lead in double digits when Nebraska was trying to make a run. Finally, with Iowa up only 3 and 4 respectively in the game’s final minute, Hannah Stewart grabbed two key offensive rebounds with Iowa at the free throw line. Those rebounds helped Iowa extend their lead to two possessions, which was key in closing out the game.
Last but not least, Iowa’s three point shooting still wasn’t great in this one. The Hawks did fairly well in the first half, shooting 4-8 from three, but in the second half they went 0-4 and stopped looking for long shots in the fourth quarter. Iowa needs to shoot better, and more often, from three if they want their offense to work at full efficiency. A box score for the game is here.
Iowa returns to action on Monday, January 7 at 7 PM CT (BTN Plus) at home against Wisconsin. The Badgers are 10-4 on the season, and 1-1 in the Big Ten, with a 74-56 loss at Minnesota and a 76-69 victory at home over Purdue.