Referees can have a huge impact on a basketball game. Some crews rarely call fouls, allowing lots of contact in the post, or on drives to the basket. Others are more liberal with their whistles, determining that virtually any amount of contact is a foul. How teams adjust to the style of the referees is nearly as important as their original game plan against a given team.
In Iowa’s first game against Michigan State this year, it was the Spartans who adjusted best to the refs. The crew in that game buried their whistles, allowing all kinds of contact on defense. Michigan State noticed that early in the game, and used it to guard Megan Gustafson tightly, with plenty of contact in the post. And it worked. Gustafson got off to a quick start, but Michigan State’s physicality slowed her down in the second half, and Iowa fell to the Spartans 84-70.
This time, it was the Hawkeyes who adjusted. Tonight’s referees were more contact averse. Multiple times, they whistled players for ticky-tack fouls, whether in the post or dribbling further out. Iowa used that to their advantage, as their guards focused on attacking off the dribble, before dishing down to Megan Gustafson and company in the post.
In the first quarter, Iowa earned multiple and-ones to build a 23-15 lead. In the second, they extended that lead to 50-38 by getting Michigan State’s best posts into foul trouble, then attacking their backups. The foul trouble followed Michigan State into the third quarter, and Iowa took advantage again, growing their lead as high as 18, before taking a 13 point into the 4th quarter. The Spartans never really got close in the 4th, and Iowa finished off an 86-71 victory in what was a complete reversal of last game’s score.
Megan Gustafson led Iowa with another unbelievably dominant performance. She scored 41 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and added four blocks on defense. This is what happens when teams aren’t allowed to hack her the entire game. Kathleen Doyle added 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists, while shooting 4-6 from the three point line. She’s heating up for Iowa at just the right time, becoming an effective second scorer for the Hawks. Tania Davis was the last double figures scorer for Iowa with 10.
Of note for Michigan State was Jenna Allen. In the first game against Iowa, she scored 20 points and played Megan Gustafson tough defensively. Tonight, she was in foul trouble nearly the entire game, and scored only two points before fouling out with six minutes left. A box score for the game is here.
One fairly important note is that Makenzie Meyer didn’t play in this game due to a knee injury. She’s considered day to day with the injury. Meyer’s absence forced Tomi Taiwo into a bigger role than she’s had thus far off the bench. She responded well, hitting a three pointer and looking like a threat offensively.
The rest of Iowa’s role players also stepped up in this one. Amanda Ollinger scored four points and grabbed four rebounds off the bench, while Monika Czinano scored a couple big second quarter buckets to help Iowa extend their lead to double digits.
Finally, Iowa did well tonight in areas they’ve struggled in. They had only 13 turnovers in the game, and even fewer of those occurred while the game was in question. Michigan State also only grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, only four more than Iowa. Finally, Iowa shot 6-13 (46%) from three, which was great in a game where driving and earning a foul was always option one.
Around the Big Ten
10-2 #10 Maryland
9-2 #20 Rutgers
9-3 #16 Iowa
6-5 #23 Michigan State
Northwestern and Michigan State losing tonight means Iowa would need a pretty big end of season collapse to finish anywhere lower than third in the conference. Otherwise, we’ll learn a lot more about who will finish where in the top three on Sunday when Maryland travels to Rutgers. Iowa should root for Maryland in that one, as a Terrapin win would mean Iowa controls their own destiny in the conference again.
Maryland travels to Iowa for their lone match-up next Sunday, February 17th (12 PM CT, ESPN2). If you ever considered travelling to a game this year, that’s the one you should choose. It might be a de facto conference title game.
Iowa returns to action on the road at Ohio State on Sunday, February 10th (3 PM CT, BTN). This isn’t the same Buckeye team that has competed for conference titles the last few years. This year, they’re only 10-11 overall, and 6-6 in the Big Ten. They will almost certainly miss the NCAA Tournament, barring a stunning season finish. Because of that, this is another game Iowa can’t afford to lose, both for their conference championship hopes and for NCAA Tournament seeding purposes.