The Hawkeyes' coach and her players discuss beating the Huskers in a game that ended closer than it should have in the team's Big Ten home opener.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — You’re allowed to mourn this. Plan a metaphorical burial, prepare a eulogy. Iowa’s platoon system — the wholesale, five-for-five exchanges that characterized much of the Hawkeyes’ nonconference schedule — is done.
That’s what coach Lisa Bluder said after she played nine in a more traditional, piece-by-piece substitution pattern in Saturday’s 75-72 win against Nebraska.
"We have been slowly moving away from the platoon," Bluder said. "If you look back at our last several games and the Illinois game, it was only the first quarter and that was it. In November, we had 11 games in about four weeks. We were playing three games a week and that’s a lot of minutes. So I think it was more important during that time."
Before Saturday, Bluder would sub out her starters for five new players around the 5:30 mark of the opening quarter. Early in the season she’d keep this pattern up throughout most of the game. Lately, like she said, she’d only done it in the first.
But the platoon system took its last breath Saturday with 6:02 left in the first, when only Chase Coley subbed in for Christina Buttenham. Bluder called two more one-for-one subs soon after.
Nine Hawkeyes eventually played — a season-low. Eleven had played in 13 of the first 14 games. Bre Cera didn’t play for the first time this season; Amanda Ollinger didn’t play for the second time.
"Now we’re getting into a little bit more of a traditional, two-game-a-week Big Ten schedule," Bluder said. "And we just want the people on the floor that were on the floor."
Still, Bluder hopes the platoon system had its effect. For 14 games, her players’ legs theoretically didn't waste as much energy as other teams in the Big Ten.
No Iowa starter averages 30 minutes or more — the Hawkeyes are just one of four Big Ten teams who can say that. And combined, Iowa’s five players with the most court time average 25.4 minutes per game — third behind Nebraska (25.3) and Maryland (23.5).
Four Hawkeyes played 30-plus minutes Saturday: Megan Gustafson (31), Ally Disterhoft (35), Tania Davis (37) and Kathleen Doyle (30).
"I’m used to being on the court, so that’s where I want to be," Disterhoft said of increased minutes without the platoon system. "I played a lot of minutes last year, played a lot of minutes in high school. So just, I’m used to that ... I think (my legs) felt fine."
Doyle admitted there "was definitely a weird feeling about that game" after beating Nebraska, the team she was committed to about seven months ago.
But she said just one thing coursed through her mind before tipoff.
"Let’s win the game," she said. "That’s all I was focusing on."
Doyle enjoyed another Doyle-like afternoon, scoring 10, tying a career-high with six assists and nabbing three steals.
She had a particularly effective stretch midway through the third, when she snatched two steals and scored four points from the charity stripe in 40 seconds, giving Iowa a 46-45 lead.
"I was trying not to focus on that part of it (her relationship with Nebraska)," Doyle said. "I was trying to focus on getting our first Big Ten win."
'Nebraska had no idea I was on the court'
Davis hit a proverbial rock bottom against Illinois: zero points and four turnovers in 35 minutes. The week prior, against Kent State, she scored just two points in 22 minutes. Before that, she scored nine on 1-for-9 shooting against Drake.
That’s 11 points on 2 of 18 shooting over a three-game stretch, if you’re keeping score at home.
She matched those 11 points in one game against Nebraska, on 5-of-11 shooting. She nearly nabbed a double-double with eight assists, and she added four steals.
"It was awesome. The past couple of games I’ve been in my own head shooting-wise and defensively," Davis said. "But to be able to see that first shot go down and to hear the crowd behind me cheering me on and my teammates cheering me on, it was amazing. It was an amazing feeling and it got me going."
Davis connected on a deep 3-pointer just eight seconds into the game. She’d gone 1-for-10 from long range in the three games prior.
"It just happened," she said of the opening basket. "I think Christina (Buttenham) took the ball to the left and we reversed the ball really quick, and Nebraska had no idea I was on the court. So I just had an open 3."
Davis also had the most important pass of the day. With 10 seconds left in the third, she weaved through Nebraska’s defense and fired a perfectly placed pass to Disterhoft for a buzzer-beating corner 3. The third quarter had been a battle for momentum, and that play won it for Iowa.
Heart palpitations ... not really
This game should not have ended 75-72. Iowa is not just three points better than Nebraska, but that’s what happens when you miss six straight free throws. Free throws.
The Hawkeyes led 75-63 with two minutes left. Here's what happened the rest of the way:
Two free throws from Nebraska’s Jessica Shepard — 75-65, 1:29 left.
Jasmine Cincore made one free throw — 75-66, 1:08 left — and missed the second. Allie Havers got the ensuing offensive rebound, missed a jumper and Cincore grabbed another offensive rebound. After a timeout, Shepard hit a corner 3 — 75-69, 59 seconds left.
One missed layup from Disterhoft and two missed free throws from Doyle were followed by one made free throw from Nebraska's Hannah Whitish — 75-70, 35 seconds left.
Two missed free throws from Davis and a layup from Havers — 75-72, nine seconds left.
Two missed free throws from Chase Coley and a missed game-tying 3-pointer from Whitish as time expired.
"It’s unusual, because, honestly, Chase and Tania are at the top," Bluder said. "We have a free-throw ladder, we call it, in practice every day. And we shoot these free throws and those are our best two free-throw shooters. So we really felt confident with getting the ball to those guys.
"You’re going to miss some, and that happens. But I have faith in them going up there. Again, if I had to do it again, I would put the ball back in their hands again. I do believe that."
Bain covers Hawkeyes' basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.