IOWA CITY, Ia. — Kathleen Doyle was asked about her performance after Iowa’s 71-57 win over Rutgers Thursday night. The freshman shot just 3-of-10, but compiled another Doyle-like stat line: eight points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals.
The first words out of her mouth: "Well I needed to bring better defensive intensity."
She already didn’t play like a freshman. Now she doesn’t act like one in postgame pressers. And that all boils down to Doyle’s confidence and comfort, which coach Lisa Bluder said have blossomed in Big Ten play.
"I think a lot of times freshmen come in very confident, but they kind of want to not upset the apple cart," she said. "They’re feeling their way through it, trying to figure out their place, their role. And I think Kathleen is at that point now where she’s had enough experience and she’s saying, 'I’m playing and I know what the coaches want me to do now and I’m not trying to figure it out. I’m just reacting and playing the game I love.'
"It’s fun to watch her. She’s a joy to coach and I think she’s going to be a great one before it’s all said and done."
Doyle’s not the only backcourt player at the top of her game right now.
Doyle, Tania Davis and Makenzie Meyer combined for 15 assists Thursday — five apiece. Davis has regained her mojo, and Meyer appears to be fully trusting the skills that got her to Iowa.
An example: For most of the season, Meyer either dished an assist or shot the 3. But she drove baseline twice against Rutgers, hooking an under-the-basket pass to Megan Gustafson at the line for an easy bucket on the second drive. We didn't see many assertive moves like that from her until recently.
Dominating the scoreboard
The point guards assisted and the scorers scored.
Gustafson netted 25 and Ally Disterhoft had 20, marking the first game those two both scored 20 or more since Dec. 18 at Drake.
It’s safe to say Disterhoft has slotted back into whatever groove she enjoyed before conference play. She got the 20 on 7-for-11 shooting (3-for-6 from long range) and she’s now scored 53 points over her past three games on 19-for-37 shooting (8-for-20 on 3s). Before that stretch, she’d made five of her previous 31 long balls.
She also grabbed nine rebounds, the most since she hauled in 12 against Illinois on Dec. 28.
"I've been on her a little bit about (rebounding)," Bluder said, nudging Disterhoft next to her. "So it's nice to have her one rebound shy of a double-double."
Added Disterhoft: "I think definitely that confidence is there. But really, I think you just have to go into every game with that shooter’s mentality that I mentioned before. I think we all do a really great job of that, no matter if we made 10 in a row or missed 10 in a row. I know my teammates believe in me and count on me to step up and hit those shots when they’re there."
Gustafson added 12 rebounds, too, for her 11th double-double of the season. She shot 10-for-13 and also went 7-for-7 against Rutgers on Jan. 17. The Scarlet Knights couldn't do anything to stop her. Doyle, Davis or Meyer would toss it into the paint where Gustafson would reach above everybody, catch the pass and go in for a lay-up.
Things weren't as easy against Maryland on Sunday, when she made 3-of-10 — her worst shooting performance of the year.
"I think coming off of a not-so-good shooting night against Maryland motivated me even more," Gustafson said. "My teammates and my coaches believed in me so I kept working hard. I knew that they were going to have some strong posts so I needed to bring my strength as much as I can."
The rest of Iowa combined for 26 points on 6-for-25 shooting and the bench scored a season-low four points. (Hannah Stewart and Chase Coley both had two.)
Through Iowa's nine Big Ten games, the bench has scored nine, 14, six, seven, 17, 18, 18, 10 and four points.
"Our goal is to have five people in double figures every game," Bluder said. "We want balanced scoring. Some games it happens and some games it doesn't. Sometimes you go to what's working. You can go in with a game plan and then you have to alter that depending on what's working for you and what's not working for you. I think our players are really smart at understanding, hey, if something is working, keep going to the well, and they understand how effective and efficient Megan is on the block."
Iowa's RPI dropped a couple spots to 56 after beating Rutgers, whose RPI is now 184. Up next for the Hawkeyes: Sunday at Michigan, which boasts an RPI of 31, the third-best in conference.
Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.