At halftime against Nebraska, Iowa held a nine-point lead and looked to be in control of the game. Megan Gustafson had dominated Nebraska’s post defense, and the Huskers had no answer for her, despite everything they tried. Nebraska’s offense also wasn’t shooting well, and couldn’t get much going to the basket.
Then, just as they did against Indiana, Iowa squandered their lead. Nebraska started hitting shots from deep, and Iowa had trouble with turnovers and getting Gustafson touches. By the middle of the third quarter, Nebraska had tied the game, and had a free throw to take the lead. Iowa was at a crossroads. Another poor finish to the game would give them perhaps the first bad loss on their resume. It would also mean a two game losing streak and a loss of momentum heading into March.
Luckily, Iowa didn’t finish poorly. On the back of a couple three pointers of their own, Iowa went on a run and took a 5 point lead into the fourth quarter. Then Gustafson took over again, sinking multiple jumpers from the elbow to extend the lead to double digits. Iowa’s defense took over the rest of the way, and the Hawks closed out a relatively comfortable 74-58 victory that was closer than the final score indicated.
Gustafson led Iowa with a ridiculous 29 points and a career high 20 rebounds. She had a huge impact on both ends of the floor. Fellow post Hannah Stewart also had a big game, with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Tania Davis was the final Hawkeye in double figures with 14 points. A box score for the game is here.
A big reason Iowa crumbled against Indiana was that the offense struggled to get Gustafson touches down the stretch. In this game, Iowa suffered from the same problem in the first and third quarters. As soon as Iowa started finding her in the second and fourth, their offense started rolling, and they stretched out their lead. This isn’t rocket science. If Gustafson gets the ball and enough space to do her thing, Iowa is one of the best teams in the country. If she doesn’t, they’re vulnerable.
On that note, today’s game might be a road map going forward. Teams are going to double and triple team Gustafson in the low post. When they do, Iowa needs to focus on getting her touches in the high post. Gustafson actually has a really good jump shot. I’d wager she hits over 50% of the elbow jumpers she takes. If she can knock down a couple of those early on, it’ll free up space in the low post for her later.
In the next couple days, the rest of Iowa’s guards should watch film of Tania Davis’ performance tonight. Particularly, they should focus on her shot selection. Davis shot only four three pointers in tonight’s game, but they all came when she was open and shooting in rhythm. When she wasn’t open, she was still able to attack the basket when she found space, either going all the way for a layup or hitting a floater. All of Davis’ shots were quality in this one, and it helped her go 6-10 from the floor. Iowa’s other guards were 5-17.
Down the stretch, shot selection will be important for Iowa’s guards. Sometimes they have a tendency to launch a bunch of low percentage shots, and that’s how teams like Indiana get going on big runs. Shooting better percentage shots will help to limit those runs, but will also help the offense’s spacing. Defenses will have to pay more attention to Iowa’s guards as scoring threats, giving Gustafson space to dominate down low.
Around the Big Ten
1) 14-3 #8 Maryland
2) 13-4 #12 Iowa
In unfortunate news, Maryland pulled off a victory their road game against Purdue. They were down most of the way, but stormed back in the fourth quarter to steal a second consecutive game. That victory all but locks up the Big Ten regular season title for them, as their final game is at home against bottom of the conference Illinois (2-15 in the Big Ten).
Iowa’s focus now should be on finishing strong. If they take care of business in their next couple games, they might well get another shot to beat Maryland to a Big Ten title in the final game of the Big Ten Tournament.
Before the Big Ten Tournament, though, Iowa has one final regular season game. That takes place in Carver Hawkeye Arena against Northwestern on Sunday, March 3rd at 3 PM CT (BTN). The Wildcats are one of the surprises of the conference thus far, as they’re 15-12 on the season and 8-8 in the Big Ten. For a while, they started to edge their way into NCAA Tournament consideration before slipping as of late.
Though Iowa will likely have at least one more game at Carver Hawkeye Arena in the NCAA Tournament, the Northwestern game will be the last official home game for Gustafson, Davis, and Stewart. Those able should strongly consider attending to help send off a strong senior class.