Generally, the last few minutes of a basketball game aren’t indicative of the rest of the game. That's because basketball is usually a game of runs. A game of hot and cold streaks. No matter how good or bad a team does in those first few minutes, their play generally reverts to the mean at some point.
Occasionally, however, the first few minutes of a game do set the tone for what’s to come.
Tonight, Iowa started their game against Nebraska on fire defensively. The Hawkeyes kept Nebraska out of the paint, challenged jumpers, then fought hard to secure the defensive rebound. The fruit of Iowa’s labor was a five-minute stretch to start the game where Nebraska didn’t score a single point.
And while Nebraska would eventually score 60 points over the course of the rest of the game, they never got into a solid rhythm offensively. They were forced to take long jumpers, which clanked off the rim into the hands of Iowa players more often than not.
Though Iowa’s defense played well throughout, their offense took some time to get going. At the end of the first quarter, Iowa had only 13 points and was tied with Nebraska. The second quarter wasn’t a whole lot better, and Iowa took a 35-32 lead into halftime.
Finally in the third quarter, Iowa’s offense got rolling a bit. They hit a few more shots, got more looks near the basket, and the defense continued to hold. Iowa took a 57-45 lead into the fourth quarter, then coasted home from there for a 76-60 victory. The win avenged Iowa’s loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten season opener.
Kathleen Doyle didn’t have her best shooting night, but she still scored 15 points and tallied a school record 15 assists. Monika Czinano added 23 points and 8 rebounds. Iowa has missed her scoring ability in the low post these last couple games, so it was good to see her get rolling again. Amanda Ollinger had one of her better games as a Hawkeye, with 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks. She showed some offensive potential tonight by getting all the way to the rim off the dribble. Hopefully we see even more of that moving forward. Alexis Sevillian was the last Hawkeye in double figures with 11. A box score for the game is here.
In the last couple games, and at various times throughout the season, Iowa has struggled with rebounding. Tonight, the team did a much better job as a whole of finding players to box out, then attacking the ball once hit off the rim. Iowa won the rebounding battle 47-38, and only lost the offensive rebounding battle 14-13. That’s fairly impressive considering Nebraska shot 12.4% worse than Iowa and was a dreadful 8-30 from three.
It appears that the role of primary backup guard for Iowa is wide open. Gabbie Marshall has held that role for most of the season, at times playing 20-25 minutes per game. Tonight, though, she played just 6 minutes, registering a missed shot as her only statistic.
In the non-conference, Marshall looked like she might well be a multi-year starter at Iowa in the future. She was shooting it well from three, handled the ball well, and forced some turnovers on defense. Her shot has abandoned her in Big Ten play, however, and thus far she hasn’t shown an ability to score off the dribble. With no end to her slump in sight, it appears Bluder is trying different options to try and create a spark off the bench.
Interestingly, tonight that came in the form of Zion Sanders. Sanders played some point guard in the end of Iowa’s loss to Michigan, but tonight was the first time she saw action in a close game… maybe all season? She’s not the best ball handler on the team, but did play in some crucial games during her freshman and sophomore years and thus has some experience dealing with pressure. Tomi Taiwo also played a few minutes in the game, but she didn’t have much of an impact, either. We’ll see if anyone can win the job moving forward.
Around the Big Ten
The Big Ten conference championship race is getting clearler by the game, and as of now, it looks like a three-team race. Unfortunately for Iowa, they have very little margin for error. Maryland played at Indiana tonight, and though the game was close, they eventually won 79-69. That was easily the toughest game remaining on their schedule, and they will be the favorite in all their remaining games. Northwestern, meanwhile, has an even easier schedule to close the year.
It seems likely that if Iowa wants to capture at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, then they're going to have to defeat Maryland in College Park next Thursday. That’s a tough ask, even if Iowa brings their A game.
Before Iowa gets to Maryland, though, they must first beat Purdue. The Hawkeyes and Boilermakers play at 1 PM on Sunday, February 9 on BTN Plus. Purdue is 6-6 in conference this year, and has lost three league games at home. Iowa shouldn’t look past them, however, as Michigan had a similar conference record and they blew the doors off Iowa last Sunday.