When you see the name North Alabama on a schedule, you generally mark down a win. Directional mid-major schools generally aren’t known for their basketball prowess. They’re rarely the schools players dream of attending.
But sometimes, mid-majors can be pesky. Combine a good, fundamentally sound team with experienced starters, and they can cause fits for less experienced Power 5 schools.
That’s exactly the type of opponent Iowa faced tonight. North Alabama was 21-9 last year, including a win over Power 5 Vanderbilt, and an overtime loss to Xavier. The Lions returned all their starters from that 21-9 team, including four seniors and a junior.
The game started off at a frantic pace, as both teams pressed tempo and were either getting quick baskets or turning it over. North Alabama led 22-20 after the first quarter, thanks in large part to shooting 4-7 from three.
Things slowed down somewhat in the second quarter, as both teams struggled from the floor. North Alabama led close for much of the way, but a late Kathleen Doyle layup gave Iowa a 35-34 halftime lead.
The game started to turn in Iowa’s favor in the third quarter. The Hawkeyes did a better job of tightening up their defense, and were able to get many good looks around the basket against North Alabama’s man to man defense. With 2:27 to go in the third quarter, Iowa’s lead was 54-42, and it looked moments away from wrapping up a victory.
Then North Alabama broke out a press. Over the next minute and a half, Iowa turned the ball over several times, and its defense turned into swish cheese. The 12-point lead was cut to four with a minute remaining in the quarter, and the Lions had it down to two at the end of the third quarter.
North Alabama’s momentum continued early in the 4th, when they made a three-pointer to take a brief lead. But then Iowa stopped the bleeding by working its offense at the other end. The Hawks built and kept a two-possession lead for much of the fourth quarter, and though North Alabama never went away, Iowa ultimately prevailed with an 86-81 victory.
Makenzie Meyer led Iowa with 21 points (7-9 from the free throw line) and 7 rebounds. She did especially well in driving to the basket and either scoring or drawing a foul in the 4th quarter when Iowa needed baskets.
Doyle added 20 points, 7 assists, and 4 steals. Like Meyer, Doyle made some big plays in big moments.
Monika Czinano also scored in double-figures, with 18 points on 9 of 9 shooting from the field. She’s really good at getting position in the low block, and finishes most of her chances there. Tonight, she added a couple jumpers, which will force defenders to extend out on her when she’s away from the basket. A box score for the game is here.
Iowa showed resilience in how they responded early in the 4th quarter. The last couple minutes of the third quarter seemed like a freefall. One minute, the Hawks had a commanding 12-point lead. The next, that lead was down to 2. When North Alabama took the lead to start the 4th, the Hawks could’ve easily gotten down on themselves. Instead, they worked to get good looks offensively, and that helped them rebuild their lead during the 4th quarter.
There were periods of this game where Iowa’s defense was terrible, but it responded well in the 2nd and 3rd quarter and for portions of the 4th. Defensive effort will likely be a key for this team going forward. Lisa Bluder-coached teams are always going to score points. If the Hawks can force their opponents into enough bad shots, they should win a lot more tough games like this one.
Iowa came unraveled for a bit by North Alabama’s full court press in the 3rd quarter. Not only did the Hawks turn it over a couple times in the back court, but they also started forcing bad passes and speeding up their half-court offense. Teams will see that and likely press Iowa in key moments going forward. Big runs like North Alabama’s tonight will sink Iowa in the future against Big Ten competition.
Alexis Sevillian didn’t play tonight, and Gabbie Marshall stepped into the starting lineup in her place. Overall, Marshall did well in her first start. She scored 13 points on 5-8 shooting from the floor (3-5 from three) and showed that she can make baskets by driving or spotting up for threes. She did have some freshman moments, like taking a three too quickly into Iowa’s last real offensive possession of the game, but overall Marshall has showed real potential in her first two college games.
Kate Martin scored 6 points and added 4 rebounds in 21 minutes of play. She made a couple of nice jumpers near the basket, and adds an extra ball-handler when she plays the 4 position. She did struggle with defense against one of North Alabama’s guards in the fourth quarter, though, and was replaced by Ollinger down the stretch.
McKenna Warnock struggled in her second college game. In particular, she had a bad turnover and took an ill-advised shot in a quick second quarter sequence. She played only briefly in the second half, and tallied just 7 minutes in the game. Still Warnock played well in her debut, and will learn from tonight’s experience.
Iowa returns to action on Sunday, November 17th, at 2 PM CT at home against Northern Iowa. The game will be streamed on BTN Plus.