Midway through the fourth quarter, Iowa looked to be in a commanding position. The Hawkeyes had just taken the biggest lead of the game at 50-42. Even better, they had held Purdue to just 12 points since halftime. Momentum was on their side. All that remained was to finish. And that’s the one thing Iowa couldn’t do. Purdue came storming back in the game’s final few minutes, and ultimately won 62-57. There were several turning points in what was otherwise a very close game, but the biggest were all related to fouls.
First, with just over four minutes remaining in the first half, with Iowa holding a narrow 25-24 lead. Then All-American Megan Gustafson picked up her second foul of the half and was forced sit on the bench for the final four minutes. Iowa wouldn’t score again in the second period. Instead, Purdue went on a 6-0 run to close things and took a 30-25 lead into halftime. It seems unlikely that the Hawks would’ve gone four minutes without scoring with Gustafson on the floor.
The second game-changing foul occurred soon after Iowa took that 50-42 lead in the fourth quarter. Up to that point, Iowa had been playing excellently in the second half. Their defense had mostly shut down Purdue in the second half, and the combination of Gustafson and Hannah Stewart were getting plenty of good looks in the low post.
This time, Gustafson earned her fourth foul of the game, and was again forced to the bench. By the time she returned around a minute later, Iowa’s lead was all but gone. Gustafson fouled out of the game with just under two minutes remaining, and the free throws from that later foul swelled Purdue’s lead to 5.
The final game-changing foul came in the game’s waning moments. With 35 seconds remaining, Iowa scored a basket to cut Purdue’s lead to 1. They were then faced with a dilemma: should they play out Purdue’s next possession defensively, or should they foul and give Purdue a shot at free points?
For much of the possession, it looked like they chose the former. Then, just as Purdue began attacking the basket on the right wing with 11 seconds remaining, Amanda Ollinger, on orders from Iowa coaches, ran out to the left wing and grabbed Purdue’s worst free throw shooter. Coach Bluder’s hope, undoubtedly, was that the referees would call a foul on Ollinger, sending Purdue’s worst foul shooter to the line. Iowa would then get one last shot to tie or win the game, likely down two or even one.
The strategy backfired. Horribly. Instead of a regular foul, the referees whistled Ollinger for an intentional foul. They determined the foul attempt was blatant and occurred on the opposite side of the court from the ball. Purdue’s best free throw shooter—the best free throw shooter in the entire conference—went to the free throw line instead and sank one of two. Purdue then got the ball, and hit two more free throws after another foul. Their lead was four and the game, for all intents and purposes, was over.
Gustafson led Iowa with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Her presence was missed significantly down the stretch. Stewart was the only other Hawkeye in double figures with 17. She shot only 7-14 from the floor, though, including missing several close shots that Gustafson likely would’ve made. A box score for the game is here.
This game wasn’t a must win for Iowa’s conference championship hopes, but it was the sort of game conference champions normally win. Purdue is a solid team, but they will likely finish somewhere in the middle of the Big Ten. A loss to them means Iowa will likely need to beat a better opponent on the road sometime in the future if they want to keep pace with the elites of the conference.
Three-point shooting was a big problem for Iowa, as they shot only 3-17 (17.6%) from three tonight. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Iowa has often struggled to shoot from three in their losses this season. In fact, they’ve mostly struggled to shoot from three, period. Below are the three=point shooting percentages for Iowa’s main four guards. The first number is last season’s three point percentage for each player. The second is this year’s percentage, not counting this game.
The third is the difference between this year and last year
Makenzie Meyer: 37.8% 31.3% -6.5%
Tania Davis: 41.2% 37.3% -3.9%
Alexis Sevillian: 36.9% 28.3% -8.6%
Kathleen Doyle: 34.7% 40.7% +6%
As you can see, only Kathleen Doyle has improved her three point percentage this season, but her percentage comes on only 27 attempts because she was injured during the first part of the year. 27 shots is not nearly large enough of a sample to be conclusive.
Iowa’s other three guards, meanwhile, have had noticeable drops in their three-point percentage this year. Because of the poor long distance shooting, teams have been free to sag off of shooters, putting more defenders into the post to disrupt Gustafson and Stewart and cutting off penetration lanes. If Iowa wants their offensive performances to get better, it has to start with three-point shooting.
Iowa returns to action next Monday, January 14th at 6 PM CT on the road against #18 Minnesota. The game will be televised on ESPN2. Minnesota is 12-3 on the season, though they are just 1-3 in conference play with losses at Michigan and Michigan State and at home against Illinois.
The loss to Purdue makes this game pretty close to a must win for Iowa’s conference championship dreams. The Gophers are a good team, but beatable at home, as Illinois has already proven.