Three games ago, I talked about Iowa entering perhaps the toughest stretch of its season with games at Northwestern and home against #17 Maryland and #12 Indiana. At the time, I thought 2-1 in that stretch would be a great result. 1-2 was probably more likely, with 0-3 far from impossible.
But like it has all season, Iowa exceeded expectations. Today, they defeated #12 Indiana 91-85 in double overtime to move to 3-0 in their big three-game stretch. More important, Iowa now moves into a share of the Big Ten lead at 4-1 with Indiana and Rutgers. This was Iowa’s only match-up with Indiana in the regular, and so they now hold the tiebreaker over the Hoosiers for the rest of the season.
This game was a battle -- one that Iowa was chasing most of the way. Iowa was forced to chase, because they started the game slow on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Iowa was too one-dimensional. Monika Czinano was getting open initially in the paint, but the shots she took were heavily contested, and the other Hawkeyes couldn’t get much rolling. Defensively, Iowa allowed too much penetration for Indiana to either get to the basket or pull up for short jumpers. The Hoosiers led 34-20 fifteen minutes into the game, and had all the momentum.
But then Iowa responded. In the half’s final five minutes, the Hawkeyes locked in on defense, and surrendered only three points the remainder of the half. Meanwhile, on offense Iowa's guards finally started to attack Indiana’s defense and found success either getting to the rim or in dumping down to the forwards. That success helped trim Indiana’s lead down to 37-32 at halftime.
The second half started much like the first, with Indiana briefly extending their lead to 10. But then Iowa got going again, and ended the rest of the third quarter on a run. The Hawks briefly took a 4-point lead near the end of the quarter, and took a 53-51 lead into the fourth.
Early in the fourth quarter, Iowa’s offense finally went cold. They still got looks at the basket, but most were barely rimming out. Combine those with a couple turnovers and good Indiana offense, and the Hawks faced a 5-point deficit with four minutes to play.
Luckily, the Hawks responded. They got a couple stops on defense, then converted offensively. A Makenzie Meyer three with just over a minute to go in the game gave Iowa a brief lead. Indiana responded with a bucket of their own, then got the ball back again on an Iowa missed layup. A free throw with ten seconds left gave Indiana a 2-point lead with 10 seconds remaining.
It their final possession of regulation, Iowa turned to Kathleen Doyle. The senior rewarded that decision, making a tough layup and drawing a foul with 4 seconds to go. Unfortunately, Doyle missed the free throw. An Indiana jumper to end regulation fell just short.
The first overtime period was a defensive struggle, as both teams scored only three points. Indiana had contested three-pointer fall short with a few seconds remaining, and the game went to a second overtime.
In double OT, Iowa finally jumped out to an advantage. Indiana briefly tied the game with a three, but Meyer came right back with a three and a layup to give Iowa a 5-point lead. Indiana pulled back within one with a minute to play, but Doyle added another layup, then Iowa got a quick stop. The Hawks converted their free throws down the stretch, and held on for a crucial 6-point home victory.
Doyle led Iowa with 31 points, 9 rebounds, 10 assists, and 3 steals. In Iowa’s biggest game of the season to date, she had the best game of her college career, narrowly missing out on a triple-double. And her influence was felt on both ends of the floor. Offensively, she led the charge for Iowa guards getting to the basket. Defensively, she keyed a lot of Iowa’s late stops with tough on-ball defense against Indiana’s guards.
Meyer came alive in overtime, and finished with 17 points and two big threes to give Iowa leads late in the game. Monika Czinano scored 23 points; she struggled somewhat from the floor, but went 7-8 from the free throw line. She fouled out with 3:20 left in the first overtime. McKenna Warnock was the last Hawkeye in double figures with 11 points and 7 rebounds. She was the only Hawkeye to hit a three for much of the game. A box score for the game is here.
Iowa is primarily known for their offense, but this season their defense has played a big role in victories. In particular, Iowa’s 2-3 zone has done well at limiting opposing team’s opportunities around the basket. The Hawks have also done well in contesting three-point opportunities, and good teams like Indiana and Maryland have suffered with terrible shooting performances.
Today in particular, the zone helped Iowa get a string of stops that propelled Iowa’s runs. When Iowa played man for a few limited stretches, Indiana succeeded in getting open looks for their posts in the paint. Those post opportunities were few and far between against the zone.
Today’s BTN broadcast talked a lot about Iowa’s home winning streak, which is now up to 30 games. It’s been nearly two years since Iowa was defeated at Carver, and it looks like that streak could continue for a while longer. Indiana and Maryland were Iowa’s two most difficult home games on this year’s schedule. The Big Ten is full of good teams this year, but Iowa should be favored in every remaining home match-up.
Iowa’s home dominance is important in two respects. First, it’s looking more and more like Iowa will be in the mix for a conference championship for a second consecutive year. This year’s Big Ten doesn’t have a dominant team. Indiana, Maryland, and Northwestern are arguably the league’s three best teams apart from Iowa, and Iowa has already beaten them all. That means that defending home court is crucial. Iowa can afford a slip up or two on the road like it had against Nebraska if they take care of business at home.
Second, top 4 seeds in the women’s NCAA Tournament host the first two rounds of the tournament. As of Friday, Iowa was projected as a 5 seed in ESPN’s Bracketology. If Iowa is able to do enough to earn at least a 4 seed come tournament time, it will be two home wins away from advancing to the Sweet Sixteen for the second consecutive season.
Iowa returns to action this Thursday, January 16th at 7 PM CT at Minnesota. The Gophers were ranked for a time this year, but have started conference play 1-4. Today, they fell on the road to Illinois, a team that was previously winless in conference. Minnesota was without two of their best players in that one, however. The game will be streamed on BTN+.