When you see a game at Northwestern on the schedule, you first reaction is probably a shrug. Road games in the Big Ten are never easy, but the Wildcats have made only one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1997. They’re just Northwestern.
But this year’s Northwestern team is different. Northwestern started the year 12-1, with its only loss by two points against #16 DePaul.
Just this week, the Wildcats matched up with #12 Maryland at home and destroyed the Terps 81-58. It was perhaps the most surprising result of the season given the margin of victory.
So coming into this road game, it's fair to say that Iowa was the underdog. That they would need a great performance on both ends to stand a chance of winning.
On Sunday, Iowa got that performance. It dominated Northwestern offensively, and especially defensively, en route to a commanding 77-51 victory.
Iowa set the tone for this game early with its defense. The Hawks started the game in a 2-3 zone, and it was suffocating. For much of the game, Northwestern couldn’t break down that zone, and they settled for long three-pointers that they didn’t make nearly enough of. When Northwestern did penetrate the zone, they often settled for pull-up jumpers instead of getting something going to the basket. As a result, Northwestern had only 13 first quarter points, and had just 21 at halftime.
Iowa, meanwhile, was hot from three in the game, and also did well breaking down Northwestern’s zone to get looks at the rim. The Hawks held an 11-point lead at the end of the first quarter, and extended that to 12 at halftime.
The second half went much the same. Iowa’s defense locked down Northwestern’s offense for much of the quarter, and their own offense kept steadily scoring enough to maintain (and build) itheir lead. The fourth quarter was all Iowa (they outscored the Wildcats 25-12), and the Hawks eventually won 77-51.
Monika Czinano led Iowa with 21 points on 9-14 shooting. She continues to be a near automatic bucket when she gets the ball in the low post. Kathleen Doyle added 15 points and 7 assists. She got into foul trouble in the first half, and barely played in the second quarter. Today, her foul trouble didn’t matter much. In the future, it could. She needs to be more careful with her aggressiveness on defense. McKenna Warnock scored 12 points off the bench, including going 2-3 from three. She might be Iowa’s best three-point shooter. Amanda Ollinger added another double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Her rebounding is especially important in the zone defense where rebounding can be more difficult. A box score for the game is here.
This was Iowa’s most complete performance of the season, and it came on the road. The defense was excellent. Northwestern shot only 36% (20/57) from the floor and just 19% (4/21) from three. The offense was nearly as good, shooting 54% (29/54) from the field and 64% (9/14) from three. Iowa playing at this level or close can compete for a Big Ten Championship.
Speaking of the Big Ten, predicting how the conference will shake out is nearly impossible. Going into conference play, it seemed like #12 Maryland and #14 Indiana were the two favorites. Then Maryland got blown out by Northwestern to start the year. And then Iowa blew out Northwestern on the road today.
Three games in, and only Indiana is undefeated in conference. Meanwhile, 11 Big Ten teams have a legitimate chance to make the NCAA Tournament. The Big Ten will likely be a bloodbath this year. The eventual champion will have to defend home court and steal as many games as possible on the road. Thus far, Iowa has done that. They easily defeated Illinois in their only conference home game so far, and just beat a very good Northwestern team on the road. The loss to Nebraska was unfortunate, but Nebraska is 2-1 in conference and just beat #24 Minnesota at home, too.
Iowa returns to action on Thursday, January 9 at 7 PM CT at home against #12 Maryland. It’s still early, but if Iowa really wants to compete for a conference championship, this is a game they need to win. Maryland has shown that they are vulnerable on the road -- and that they might not be the hands-down conference favorite like they have been ever since they joined the Big Ten. Iowa needs to take advantage. The game will be televised on BTN.