In Iowa’s last game against Minnesota, their second quarter was disastrous. They turned the ball over 11 times, and went from a first quarter lead to an 8-point halftime deficit. But then, just as the season looked like it had hit a low point, Iowa rebounded. They pummeled Minnesota in the third quarter, before pulling away for a comfortable 18-point road victory. A second half of near flawless basketball made all the difference.
Tonight’s game against Michigan was similar. Iowa struggled for much of the first half, due primarily to turnovers, poor rebounding, and a lack of three-point shooting. But this time the turnover problem wasn’t quite as bad, and Iowa’s defense helped compensate for their offensive struggles. The two teams were tied at 16 after one quarter, and a strong run to end the second quarter gave Iowa a 32-29 halftime lead.
Then, just as with Minnesota, something clicked at halftime. Iowa boosted their lead to double digits in the first couple minutes of the third quarter thanks to several defensive stops and a couple of made threes on the offensive end. They kept their foot on the gas the remainder of the quarter and built their lead as high as 18. Then in the fourth quarter, the kept playing tough. Each time Michigan looked to go on a run to get back into the game, Iowa had an answer. They eventually closed out a solid 75-61 victory.
Megan Gustafson led Iowa with 21 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 assists. She faced double teams for most of the night, and did a good job finding teammates in a position to score when shooting wasn’t an option. The primary recipient of those passes was fellow post Hannah Stewart, who scored 16 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. I expect more teams to double Gustafson down the stretch of the season, and Stewart will need to be able to fill in for her scoring like she did tonight. Iowa’s guards also did well on the score sheet, as Kathleen Doyle and Tania Davis had 10 each, while Alexis Sevillian added 9 points. A box score for the game is here.
Iowa’s first half wasn’t nearly as bad as the one against Minnesota. Still, they had turnover problems in the first quarter, and surrendered 11 first half offensive rebounds. They also struggled somewhat offensively with Gustafson being doubled and no outside shooting.
The second half, though, was great for a second consecutive game. The guards got more involved offensively attacking the basket, and hit a couple big threes to help Iowa grow the lead to double figures. They, along with Stewart, also made good cuts to the basket to attack the gaps that Michigan’s double-teams left. Finally, they focused on curing their first half problems. Iowa had only two turnovers in the second half, and they surrendered only one second half offensive rebound.
The biggest reason for another strong second half performance, though, was defense. For much of the third quarter, Iowa forced Michigan into long shots that just weren’t dropping. The Wolverines shot only 1-15 from three, and they managed only eight free throws in the game, because they weren’t able to attack the basket. Those long shots and the corresponding rebounds helped Iowa push into transition offensively, and helped them get better looks when they needed them.
All told, I think this Iowa team may finally be turning the corner. They’ve shown a renewed commitment to defense against quality opponents in the past two games, and they also shown, in both second halves, that they can limit turnovers and offensive rebounds. The guards have also started to attack the basket more, taking scoring pressure off of Gustafson and Stewart.
Around the Big Ten
Iowa’s improved play comes at a particularly good time in the Big Ten. The relevant portion of the standings thus far are as follows:
6-0 #20 Rutgers
4-2 #9 Maryland
4-2 #22 Iowa
4-2 #25 Indiana
3-3 #17 Michigan State
As you can see, preseason Big Ten favorite Maryland has already suffered two conference losses. Rutgers has been the big surprise of the conference so far, and their record includes a home win over Maryland. It should be noted that other than that win, they’ve faced a fairly easy conference schedule thus far. They should start racking up some losses when they face better competition.
Otherwise, the road ahead looks promising for Iowa. They’re already tied for second in the conference, and have home games remaining against Rutgers, Maryland, Purdue, and Michigan State from the list above. If Iowa has indeed turned a corner, a conference championship is well within their grasp.
Iowa continues a busy week of games with a Sunday trip to Champaign to take on Illinois. The game begins at 2 PM CT. Illinois is 9-8 on the year, though they are only 1-5 in conference play. Their lone conference victory came on the road against ranked Minnesota, though, so this isn’t a team Iowa can overlook.