Iowa’s two-game road trip at Michigan and at Penn State on Thursday and Sunday was always going to be tough. Then the weather decided to make things tougher. Instead of the Michigan game tipping off at 5 PM on Thursday, the game was postponed. Iowa spent a second night on the road in a hotel, and was then asked to play the makeup game starting at 11 AM on a Friday. Iowa looked about how you’d expect given those circumstances, and dropped a game on the road that they really couldn’t afford to lose.
Michigan got out of the gates fast early, making seven of their first nine shots. Their offensive hot streak continued from there, and by early in the second quarter they had built a 12-point lead. To Iowa’s credit, they rebounded from that early hole, using a huge run of their own to briefly take a 30-29 lead. It would be their only lead of the game. Michigan played well the rest of the quarter, and took a 39-36 lead into halftime.
Iowa’s third quarter went even more poorly than the first. The Hawkeyes' defensive issues persisted, and they also started turning the ball over at a high rate. Michigan took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter, and it would’ve been 14 if not for a buzzer-beater three pointer from Tania Davis to end the third. Unlike the early second quarter, Iowa never put together a big run in the fourth. They cut the lead as close as six, but Michigan soon got it back to double digits, and ultimately held on to win 90-81.
Megan Gustafson led Iowa with 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Her stat-line is deceiving, however, as many of those points came late when the contest was already decided. Gustafson didn’t look like her usual dominant self today, and wasn’t the offensive threat Iowa needed for much of the game. She also committed five turnovers.
The best player on the floor for Iowa today was Kathleen Doyle, who scored 22 points on 9-13 shooting, with five steals. Doyle was a menace in the passing lanes, causing many of Michigan’s 12 turnovers by either getting steals or pressuring the Wolverines into bad passes. She also showed an ability to drive to the basket that Iowa’s guards have generally lacked for much of the year. Her big problem today was foul trouble. Fouls are a byproduct of her aggressive style, but today she spent multiple stints on the bench in foul trouble, and ultimately fouled out of the game with a few minutes remaining. A box score for the game is here.
Given the unusual circumstances of this game, it’s not particularly surprising that Iowa’s biggest issues reared their head today. The problem is that all of them did.
First, Iowa struggled significantly on the glass, as they surrendered 24 offensive rebounds. Michigan scored 25 points off of those offensive rebounds, while Iowa had only 10 second chance points. Giving up those rebounds today was especially problematic because Michigan also shot the ball fairly well. It seemed like every time Iowa finally got them to miss, Michigan was right there for the offensive rebound and an easy look at the basket.
Iowa also had 15 turnovers in the game, many of which came just as they were starting to cut into Michigan’s lead in the second half. 15 turnovers isn’t a season high by any stretch, though the timing of the turnovers was important and damaging for Iowa’s chance at victory. They looked particularly vulnerable to the three-quarter court press that Michigan used at various stages in the game.
Finally, three-point shooting was a concern again. Though Iowa actually shot 40% from three in the game (4-10), two of those makes were on last second desperation shots that somehow fell. Iowa needed its guards to shoot well today from three to loosen up Michigan’s 2-3 zone, and they simply didn’t shoot, or make, enough of them to do that.
Around the Big Ten
9-1 #17 Rutgers
8-2 #11 Maryland
7-3 #13 Iowa
5-4 #22 Michigan State
As you can see above, this was a particularly difficult loss for Iowa in the Big Ten standings. The loss was most significant as it relates to Rutgers. Though Iowa has the tie-breaker over the Scarlett Knights, they now have to rely on other teams beating Rutgers twice. Thus far, no other Big Ten team, including Maryland, has been able to accomplish that feat even once.
In the bigger picture, I think a 15-3 conference record gives Iowa a good shot at a Big Ten title. There’s still a chance that 14-4 is enough, but that’d probably be in a tie with other teams, and would likely require Iowa to beat Maryland in their only match-up of the year at a minimum.
All that means is that the margin of error is gone if Iowa wants to win the conference title. They still have home games against Maryland, Northwestern, and Michigan State to shake up the conference standings, but a loss in any of those would be fairly devastating. They also can’t afford anymore road slip-ups.
The Hawkeyes next game is another road contest, as they travel to take on Penn State on Sunday, February 3rd. The game tips off at 1 PM CT, and will be televised on BTN Plus.
Though Penn State is a lower half team in the Big Ten conference, the weather has had a significant impact on this one. Before Iowa’s game was moved, they had two days to prepare for Penn State, and Penn State would’ve had the same amount of rest that Iowa did. Penn State’s game was also postponed, though, and they didn’t make it up today. As a result, Penn State will have had about a week to rest between games, while Iowa will start the contest around 48 hours after the Michigan game ended.