Iowa coach Lisa Bluder and the Hawkeyes talk about Sunday's grit Dargan Southard/HawkCentral
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Another test, another passing grade.
With a ranked foe in their building to cap 2017, the No. 21 Hawkeyes used a pair of second-half surges to push by No. 19 Michigan, 82-72, Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The win is Iowa’s seventh straight and sends the Hawkeyes (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten Conference) into the new year on a positive note.
“Belief, confidence, it’s just really important to have all those things," junior Megan Gustafson said. "And at the end of the day, we came out with a big win.”
The first crucial run arrived at the end of the third quarter, as Iowa turned a two-point deficit into a 56-47 advantage heading into the fourth. Then, after Michigan clawed back within two again with 3 minutes, 41 seconds to play, the Hawkeyes clamped down and scored 12 of the next 15 to put it away.
Gustafson and Kathleen Doyle led the Iowa charge, combining for 50 points on 17-for-26 shooting. Michigan’s Katelynn Flaherty did all she could to keep the Wolverines afloat with 24 points, but Iowa significantly limited any assistance.
Kathleen comes up clutch
Now as Iowa’s most experienced healthy guard, Doyle has embraced an even larger leadership role to go along with consistent production — which showed up again Sunday via 23 points and nine assists in 39 minutes.
“I thought Doyle really led our team,” Bluder said. “Looked for her offense, obviously, but I thought her defense and her composure and focus was really, really good as our point guard.”
Two of Doyle’s most impactful baskets arrived late in the fourth quarter just as Michigan was trying to creep back. The Wolverines had a nine-point deficit sliced down to 64-62 with a shade under four minutes remaining, when Doyle helped slam the door.
She converted a steal into a layup, then converted again on a nice back-door pass from Chase Coley. Doyle followed with an assist to Gustafson to push the Hawkeyes up double figures. Ballgame.
“The biggest thing is making sure that everyone is believing in themselves consistently,” Doyle said. “Not every play is going to go your way, but knowing that they have the talent to bounce back and do it right the next time is really important. Just keeping everyone composed — and it worked out really well for us.”
Second half surge
Michigan did a decent job limiting Iowa’s star in the first half, holding Gustafson to six points on just two shots. But the highly touted forward took off out of the break, delivering 13 in the third quarter en route to a 21-point second half.
She had eight points during Iowa’s pivotal 15-4 run to end the third quarter and continued to stay aggressive down the stretch, as the Hawkeyes’ held off Michigan’s late comeback bid.
“Just being able to not rush our offense was important,” Gustafson said. “Sometimes, a lot of teams will go into it and get really frustrated and force some things, but I think we did a really nice job of just seeing what the defense was giving us and just being patient.”
Given the added attention Gustafson regularly receives with double- and even triple-teams, she’s made teams pay as a reliable force at the free-throw line. After a 11-for-11 showing there on Sunday, Gustafson hasn’t missed from the charity stripe in Big Ten play and has hit 22 consecutive free throws overall.
Doing her part
The Hawkeyes’ shorthanded unit has forced some improvising on Iowa’s part, and Carly Mohns has capitalized on the opportunity so far. With just one healthy guard off the bench, the redshirt junior forward has had to step out on the perimeter more as her impact continues to grow.
Mohns played a season-high 25 minutes and scored nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, also draining her first trey since Nov. 28, 2015. She snagged a pivotal steal that helped put the game away late as well. Iowa doesn’t need Mohns to start scoring 20 a game, but the Hawkeyes — now more than ever — must have every piece pulling in the same direction down two players.
Mohns certainly did her part Sunday.
“I knew I wasn’t going to try to do too much,” she said. “Makenzie’s out, and I’m not going to go in and try to be Makenzie Meyer. I’m just going to play my game and see what’s open.
“And just along with that, a lot of our team uses the word 'grit.' So just remembering that in the back of my mind that we have grit and that our team is there for each other.”
Flaherty found her points eventually, but Iowa’s defensive effort on Hallie Thome was phenomenal. The junior center entered averaging 16.6 points per game and had only scored in single digits once this season, but Gustafson and fellow posts held Thome to just seven points on 3-for-7 shooting.
“She has a couple inches on me so I knew I had my work cut out for me,” Gustafson said. “With Chase (Coley) and Hannah (Stewart) too, we just did a good job of preparing — just knowing which way she likes to turn was really important. Pushing her off the block was really important as well, because she finishes well down low.”
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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.