Lisa Bluder breaks down Iowa’s fast start vs. Indiana. Dargan Southard / The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Indiana entered Iowa City scorching hot, having won eight in a row.
It didn’t take the Hawkeyes long to quench the Hoosier fire.
Iowa constructed a double-digit lead seven minutes in and were largely untested the rest of the way, concocting a productive mixture of high assists, low turnovers and a strong shooting display. All resulted in Saturday’s 75-62 win over Indiana on senior day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The most recent conquest in Indiana’s late-season surge was Tuesday’s road upset of Minnesota, a possible NCAA Tournament team. But Iowa (23-6, 11-5 Big Ten Conference) quickly made sure the Hoosiers (16-13, 9-7) wouldn’t be pulling back-to-back stunners.
On the broad shoulders of Megan Gustafson, the Hawkeyes sprinted out to a 20-5 lead before the opening quarter ended. Indiana briefly sliced its deficit to four early in the second quarter, but Iowa punched back with a 14-4 run to move ahead, 35-21.
"I thought the (fast start) was huge," Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said. "Setting the defensive tone right off the bat, taking control of the game, putting doubt in their mind —those are all things that I think are important if you come out and establish yourself in that first quarter."
The Hawkeyes’ lead never dipped below double figures again.
Gustafson led the charge and picked up double-figure assistance from Makenzie Meyer (13 points), Hannah Stewart (10) and Chase Coley (12). Coley and Carly Mohns were honored in post-game senior day festivities.
"I tried not to get sad. I tried to just remember that there is still so much more of the season left to play," Coley said. "We're not even close to being done yet. It was fun to come out here and play my last game in Carver and have a good game, but we kind of just focused on it like a regular game."
Here’s what we learned:
Resting her case
She’s been cementing her case all season, but Gustafson’s closing argument for Big Ten player of the year was as convincing as any. Just two days before the conference awards are announced on Monday, the all-American candidate dominated Indiana from start to finish.
"If she doesn't get everybody's (vote for Big Ten player of the year), I just don't understand. I don't understand what people are looking at," Bluder said. "This is not a career award. This is this season's award, and I think she's very deserving of that."
Gustafson finished with 36 points and 15 rebounds — her 26th double-double in 29 games this season. She came up five rebounds short of a double-double in the first quarter, eventually reaching the mark with four minutes to play… in the first half.
For the Hoosiers, there was no easing into the Gustafson experience. It was a rude 11 a.m. wake-up call that Indiana had no answer for. The Iowa junior poured in 12 of the Hawkeyes’ 20 first-quarter points and never stopped rolling.
Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell will make her final argument for conference player of the year on Sunday at Penn State. But it’ll be hard to top Gustafson’s last act.
"I don't know how she catches some of the passes we make to her," Coley said. "I like to think I'm a pretty good passer, but sometimes, I'm just like, 'Here, go get it.' And she does.
"When you're in the game with Megan, you pass it to her and coach Bluder's like, 'Go crash!' And I'm like, 'Well, she's probably going to make it.' She makes some amazing finishes."
Redshirt freshman guard Alexis Sevillian missed Saturday’s game with influenza and wasn’t even present on the bench. Amanda Olllinger got the start in her place, but filling Sevillian’s minutes was a combination of her, Mohns and Zion Sanders.
"We knew right around practice (Friday that Sevillian wasn't going to play Saturday)," Bluder said. "She was not at practice (Friday), so it gave us one day, which is more than we've usually had getting ready for people missing and such."
Sevillian’s illness will be something to monitor, but Bluder hopes she's back by the Big Ten Tournament. The Hawkeyes likely won’t play until Thursday, possibly Friday.
No. 5 seed likely
Iowa’s win clinches at least the No. 5 seed in next week’s conference tournament, and there’s still an outside shot the Hawkeyes can steal a double-bye as a top-four seed.
Iowa will need Minnesota to lose at Illinois on Sunday, which doesn’t seem likely given the Illini’s 0-15 Big Ten record. Should Minnesota win, the Maryland-Nebraska loser would fall into a three-way tie with the Hawkeyes and Gophers. Iowa comes in third in both scenarios.
Still, the Hawkeyes’ 23 regular-season wins and 11 conference victories are the most since the 2014-15 campaign, when Iowa surged to the Sweet 16. The schedule eased up in February, and Iowa pounced with seven straight wins.
"I'm really proud of this team that we were able to have a great February," Gustafson said, "and it really gives us a lot of momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament."
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.