During the Lisa Bluder and Bill Fennelly eras at Iowa and Iowa State, the two programs have generally been at a very similar level. Bluder and Fennelly’s winning percentages are nearly identical. Both have been to Sweet 16s and Elite 8s. Both have produced All-American players.
For a while, the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry showed how close the teams were. Iowa would win games in Iowa City. Iowa State would win games in Ames.
But the past five seasons have been different. Each of the last five years, Iowa has pulled out a hard-fought victory over the Cyclones. Sometimes, the result was surprising, like when Iowa won at Iowa State for the first time in 28 years back in 2017. Sometimes, the result has been downright heartbreaking for Iowa State, like when Iowa came back from 17 down in the 4th quarter last year. But each time, Iowa came out victorious.
The big question this year was whether the streak would continue. Whether Iowa could earn another victory in Ames.
Iowa started the game well defensively, forcing a number of misses on Iowa State’s opening shots. But the Cyclones did a better job at hustling for rebounds and converting second chance points. Iowa’s offense started strong, making three baskets on its first three possessions. But then the Iowa offense went cold for several minutes, and Iowa State got the lead. Iowa’s offense finally got going again in the last few minutes, but Iowa State made a few baskets too. All told, Iowa State led 19-17 after the first quarter.
The second quarter started poorly for Iowa. The offense again went cold, and Iowa State was finding plenty of open shots. An Iowa State three-pointer with just under four minutes to play bumped the Cyclone lead to 12 points at 34-22. Iowa looked out of it.
But then Iowa’s offense got going again. And Iowa switched to a 2-3 zone that did a better job of limiting Iowa State’s space. The Hawks went on a 9-2 run to end the half, and had narrowed Iowa State’s advantage to five points at 36-31.
In the early third quarter, Iowa built on its end of half momentum. Monika Czinano got back in the game after sitting out for a decent portion of the first half with foul trouble and went to work in the post. Her offense, along with some good defensive effort helped Iowa take a brief lead at 45-43.
Unfortunately, Iowa’s run came to an end, and Iowa State went on a run of their own. The Cyclones briefly took a six-point lead near the end of the third quarter, but Cailin Clark nailed a buzzer-beater to cut that in half. ISU led 57-54 heading to the fourth quarter.
Iowa State’s steak continued over to the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Cyclones finally hit on a couple of their open threes, and Iowa had a couple open looks rim out. ISU used the run to build a 9-point lead with under four minutes to play. Iowa closed that gap down as low as four, but never got closer, and Iowa State closed out a 77-70 victory.
Clark led Iowa with 26 points and 7 rebounds, but she shot just 10-26 from the floor and 4-12 from three-point range. It’s probably time to start worrying a bit about how she’s shooting. Monika Czinano had 13 points, but 11 of those were in the third quarter, and she was largely ineffective the rest of the game. McKenna Warnock was the last Hawkeye in double-figures with 11 points and 8 rebounds. A box score for the game is here.
Iowa has one of the best offenses in basketball, but sometimes it gets streaky. We saw that on full display tonight. There were multiple times when Iowa went 3-4 minutes straight without a basket. There were other times when Iowa scored on 3-4 consecutive possessions and made everything look easy. Unfortunately, there was one too many scoreless streaks tonight, and that hurt Iowa, particularly in the fourth quarter.
Last year, Iowa’s defense was terrible for most of the games they played. There were stretches where Iowa’s defense was terrible tonight, too, but there were also times when the defense was good. Some of that defensive effort was undone by poor rebounding, but seeing good defensive stretches was still more than we saw most of last year. Hopefully Iowa’s defense can continue to improve, and Iowa can work on rebounding to close out a possession.
Addison O’Grady hasn’t played a lot this year, but when she has she’s shown flashes on the defensive end. O’Grady came into the game tied for the team lead in blocks, despite playing a fraction of the minutes of the team’s starters. Tonight, she added a couple additional blocks and generally made it difficult for Iowa State to score in the paint when she was in the game. Could she become the rim protector that Iowa has lacked for a few years now?
Iowa will now take a week and a half break for finals, before returning to action on Saturday, December 18 at 6:30 PM CT (BTN+) at home against Central Florida. The Knights are 6-1 on the season with Power 5 victories over Virginia, USC, and Arkansas, and one close loss against Tennessee.