Road games against bottom of the conference opponents often seem tougher than they should be. Part of that is because of expectation. You feel like your team should win easily, and if they don’t things get anxious. Another part is how bad a potential loss would be. Not only would it mean dropping a game you should’ve won, but it’s also something that selection committees point to as a black mark when discussing tournament seeding.
The best way to reduce the anxiety around games like that, then, is with a fast start. Getting up early takes the opposing crowd out of the game, and takes away the opponent’s belief that they can pull off an upset. Today, Iowa got off to a really hot start offensively. The Hawks were 6-8 from three at the end of the first quarter, and had 55 points on over 70% shooting by halftime. That shooting helped Iowa build a 10 point first quarter lead, though the lead was still just 10 at halftime.
Part of the reason Iowa’s lead wasn’t bigger is because Illinois was shooting well themselves. The Illini were 7-14 from three at halftime, and were shooting well over 50%. Illinois came out hot in the third quarter and got the lead down to 5 before Iowa called timeout. It was all Hawkeyes from that point forward. Iowa’s defense stiffened, and their offense stayed efficient and effective. The Hawkeye lead was 76-62 at the end of the third quarter, and they ended up winning 94-75.
Megan Gustafson led Iowa with 27 points and 12 rebounds. She also made the first three pointer of her career, on a buzzer-beater from several feet beyond the arc.
— Iowa Women's BBall (@IowaWBB) January 20, 2019
Tania Davis had another spectacular day, scoring 19 points on 8-11 shooting, while going 3-4 from three. Kathleen Doyle and Hannah Stewart also did well, scoring 17 and 13 respectively. A box score for the game is here.
This is the third game in a row in which Iowa’s guards have looked very good offensively. Davis is playing some of the best basketball of her career. She’s become more of a scoring threat and is Iowa’s best three-point shooter right now. Doyle also looks to be finding her stride, as she’s been more aggressive recently, both in shooting and in attacking the basket.
The best news for the guards, though, is that they finally shot well from three. They cooled off somewhat from their hot start, but still made 11 three pointers on 22 attempts. When Iowa can shoot like this, it’s nearly impossible to stop their offense.
Iowa also deserves credit for doing well in several areas they’ve struggled in recently. Against Minnesota, they committed 11 turnovers in the second quarter alone. Today, they had only 11 turnovers in the game, several of which came in garbage time. Iowa has also struggled in surrendering offensive rebounds recently, but today Illinois had only six and they scored just two points off them.
Finally, Iowa stepped up defensively in the second half. They’ve played good defense in the past few games, but the first half was pretty bad. Iowa did better at finding and contesting shooters in the second half, and held Illinois to only 30 second half points.
Iowa returns to action on Wednesday, January 23 at 7 PM CT (BTN Plus) with a huge game at home against #20 Rutgers (15-3, 7-0 B1G). The Scarlet Knights lead the Big Ten with a perfect 7-0 conference record, including a win at #9 Maryland. They haven’t looked as dominant as their record would indicate, but wins are wins, no matter the score. This game’s importance is magnified because it’s the only time these two teams will meet in the regular season. If Iowa wants to win the conference, they probably need to win this one. A loss would give Rutgers a 3-game advantage plus the head-to-head tiebreaker.