Great passing kills zone defenses. When an offense can pass the ball quickly and accurately, it is difficult for the defense to make proper rotations. All of a sudden, a post player is wide open on the block because the defender couldn’t get back in time. Or a guard doesn’t have a defender within 10 feet because the closest defenders were busy helping elsewhere. And if the offense finds those open players, it’s possession over. The shot is going in.
By the same token, bad passing makes a zone nearly impenetrable. Offenses are either stuck shooting too many three-pointers, or turn the ball over in an attempt to work it inside. In either scenario, the zone has accomplished everything it was designed for.
Tonight, Iowa’s passing was up and down, and so to was its performance against 3-5 Clemson. In the first quarter, Iowa’s offense was firing on all cylinders against Clemson’s aggressive 2-3 zone defense. The Hawks scored 22 points in the opening quarter, including 5 three-pointers from 5 different players. Iowa was shifting the Clemson zone well with passes, and found wide open guards as a result.
That strong offense continued into the second quarter. Iowa continued to pass well, and quickly built a double-digit lead. But then Iowa got complacent offensively. Iowa’s guards started trying to thread needles instead of making the open pass to move the ball. More often than not, those passes resulted in turnovers that killed possession.
The turnovers helped spark Clemson’s sputtering offense, and Clemson began to dig into Iowa’s lead. By halftime, that lead was just five points, 39-34. After dominating for much of the first half, Iowa had allowed the Tigers back into the ballgame.
The second half started much the way that the first half ended. Iowa continued to turn the ball over at an alarming rate, and that hurt Iowa offensively. The only difference was that Clemson was struggling even more with its own offense. At the end of the third quarter, Iowa’s lead was 8, though it easily could’ve been 15-20 with better execution.
In the fourth quarter, Iowa finally found its mojo again. The ball started moving faster, and Iowa began to find wide open players again. The Hawkeye lead quickly grew to double-digits, and got as high as 16 late in the game. Ultimately, Iowa won 74-60.
Iowa had a season-high 28 assists in the game, and had assists on all but two made baskets. The Hawkeyes also had 17 turnovers, 15 of which occurred in the game’s first three quarters.
Monika Czinano led Iowa with 24 points and 6 rebounds on 11-15 shooting from the floor. Kathleen Doyle added 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 9 assists, but she also had 8 turnovers. Doyle is Iowa’s best passer, but in the last few games, she’s tried to force way too many passes. Tonight especially, Doyle should’ve taken the easier pass a few more times and let the offense work. Amanda Ollinger was the last Hawkeye in double figures with 11 points and 9 rebounds. A box score for the game is here.
Monika Czinano has been better than Iowa could’ve expected this year. Her game has its flaws, but it’s clear at this point that she’s an elite finisher around the basket. When Czinano gets the ball in the low post, good things usually happen for Iowa.
That said, Iowa is focusing too much on getting Czinano the ball. Or, rather, Iowa is trying to force Czinano the ball too early in possessions. Against a set defense, it’s very hard to get posts the ball in scoring position. Defenses usually have help-side defenders in position to clog passing lanes, or to double team the post once she catches the ball.
When the ball gets swung a few times, or when it’s entered into the high post, that help-side defense often isn’t in position to help. Sometimes, the primary defender isn’t even there.
At least half of Iowa’s first half turnovers came on early entry passes in this game. Iowa guards either threw the ball out of bounds, or threw it right to a help-side defender. Then, in the late third and in the fourth quarter, when Iowa started moving the ball more, Czinano got open and began to torch Clemson.
Coach Bluder deserves credit in this one for changing Iowa’s defense. Early in the game, Clemson hit a few three-pointers that helped keep them close offensively. Bluder eventually switched to a triangle-and-two defense where two of Iowa’s guards played man to man defense on Clemson’s best shooters, and the other three played a 1-2 zone.
It was extremely effective in the third and fourth quarters especially. Clemson’s guards didn’t get good looks, and their forwards were forced into taking jumpers instead of getting layups at the basket.
Finally, Tania Davis made her return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena as a graduate assistant coach for Clemson. Iowa’s coaches talked for a few years about how Davis wanted to be a coach after she graduated, and it is good to see her getting to live out that dream at such a high level so soon after graduating.
Iowa now has a week off to prepare for rival Iowa State. The Hawkeyes and Cyclones will face off on Wednesday, December 11 at 7 PM CT in Ames. The game will be televised on FS1.