At halftime of today’s game, Iowa held a slim 31-27 lead that was deceptive. The Hawks once held a 13-point lead in the first quarter, but that had evaporated in the second. Their offense had gone cold, their defense was in shambles, and Ohio State had the momentum.
Iowa had been in this position before. Just last week on the road against Michigan, they let a less talented team hang around in the first half because they weren’t playing their best. And last week, they paid for that, losing that game against Michigan when they really shouldn’t have.
Iowa didn’t repeat last week’s performance against Michigan in the second half. Instead, they focused on getting the ball in the paint, and rode their All-American center to a convincing victory. Megan Gustafson had 15 third quarter points to propel Iowa to a 27-point quarter. Ohio State, meanwhile, scored only 10 in the quarter thanks to a strong defensive performance from the Hawkeyes.
Suddenly Iowa’s 4-point lead was 21, and there was no looking back from there. Iowa also played a strong fourth quarter, got some backups involved late, and cruised home with a 78-52 road victory over the Buckeyes.
Gustafson led Iowa with 29 points and 16 rebounds. She was fairly quiet in the first half, before dominating the third quarter. That’s one of the issues teams face in guarding her. Even if you keep her somewhat quiet for a half, she can go off in an instant. Kathleen Doyle was Iowa’s only other double-digit scorer with 16 points. A box score for the game is here.
The Iowa coaches and players deserve a lot of credit in this one. Things just didn’t go their way at all in the second quarter. At halftime, they could’ve let that demoralize them. They could’ve continued playing poorly. Instead, they used it as motivation and boat-raced the Buckeyes in the second half. There are lessons to learn from the first half to be sure, but right now Iowa should enjoy what was a huge victory on the road.
Makenzie Meyer missed a second consecutive game with her knee injury. Though she didn’t play, indications are that she’s close to being able to get back on the court. If I were the Iowa coaching staff, I’d keep her out of the next game, too, as a precaution, with the thought that she make her return next Sunday against Maryland. Iowa will need all hands on deck in that one.
Though injuries are unfortunate, Tomi Taiwo has taken an advantage of Meyer’s injury to make an impression. The freshman scored a three pointer, grabbed five rebounds, and dished an assist in 13 minutes of action today. From the brief glimpses we’ve gotten, Taiwo is a good three-point shooter, who has the height and athleticism to grab a decent number of rebounds. Those are two huge holes on this Hawkeye team that her presence in the lineup could help fill.
Thus far the biggest knock on Taiwo is her defensive positioning, but that’s something that will improve with more time on the court. Once Meyer is back, I’d like to see Taiwo start splitting minutes with Alexis Sevillian. I think she’s earned the chance to see if she can contribute to this team come tournament time.
Around the Big Ten
1) 11-2 #10 Maryland
2) 10-3 #16 Iowa
3) 9-3 #20 Rutgers
4) 6-5 #23 Michigan State
The big development in the Big Ten this week was Maryland defeating Rutgers on the road earlier today. With that result, Iowa now controls their own destiny in the Big Ten. Should they win out, they would be at worst tied for first place with Maryland and Rutgers, and would own the head-to-head tiebreaker over both teams.
Iowa also has a three-game lead over fourth place Michigan State in the conference, giving them a fairly significant margin of error to still finish Top 3 even if the last five games of the season go poorly. Iowa’s lead over fourth is so big because the middle of the conference is a huge mess of parity. The difference between fourth place Michigan State and eleventh place Nebraska is one game.
Iowa returns to action on Thursday, February 14th at home against Illinois (7 PM CT, BTN Plus). The Illini are 10-14 on the season, and just 2-11 in the Big Ten. Iowa beat them by 19 on the road earlier this season. While next game’s opponent seems weak on paper, Iowa can’t afford to look past them to Sunday’s game against Maryland. A loss to Illinois would be devastating to Iowa’s conference championship hopes, and would also hurt them significantly in terms of NCAA Tournament seeding.