After knocking off No. 14 Ohio State on Thursday, Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder was shocked by Sunday’s stumble. Dargan Southard/HawkCentral
IOWA CITY, Ia. — As another errant pass sailed out of bounds midway through the first half, Lisa Bluder stomped her feet, turned toward the Iowa bench and pleaded for an answer to nobody in particular.
“Why?!” the Hawkeyes coach screamed, her voice bubbling with frustration.
A competitive matchup for about half a quarter, Nebraska unleashed an emphatic ambush that sent the No. 25 Hawkeyes reeling beyond repair. Iowa's largest crowd of the season could only applaud out of courtesy. The extended patch of Husker red delivered the final noise.
Nebraska broke the Carver-Hawkeye Arena record for most first-half points scored by a visitor (56) and kept swinging after the break, sticking Iowa with a gaudy 92-74 loss Sunday afternoon on Girl Scout Day. The buzz from Thursday’s upset of No. 14 Ohio State has been officially zapped, as the Hawkeyes’ turnover problems came surging back in a moment’s notice.
"I need to apologize to everybody who came out to support us," Bluder said. "We appreciate them so much, and I can't even explain the performance we gave in the first half. Obviously struggled on both ends of the court, and it just felt like everything was going Nebraska's way. Every call was going Nebraska's way — it was just one of those games.
"It was like a bad dream. You just can't get out of it."
Here's what we learned:
About that first half
After a Kathleen Doyle trey handed Iowa (16-6, 4-5 Big Ten Conference) an 11-7 lead with 5 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Nebraska ripped off a 34-9 run over the ensuing 11 ½ minutes. It was telegraphed passes and sloppy dribbling, unforced mistakes and poor focus. A concoction of errors led to Iowa’s demise, and Nebraska (16-6, 7-2) quickly pounced, hitting 19 of its final 30 shots to end the half. That came after a 3-for-9 start.
A swift Husker surge out of the break pushed Nebraska’s lead to as much as 36. The Hawkeyes never came close to challenging down the stretch.
"The first half, our defensive intensity wasn't there," Megan Gustafson said. "We did come out flat. We did a nice job in the second half to keep fighting — and I think that was really important to do — but again, we've just got to come out with that defensive intensity and that intensity overall throughout the whole time — first, second, third, fourth quarter.
"I don't think we brought the intensity that we had against Ohio State and carried it over. But we need to do that."
The Hawkeyes cut down the turnovers in the second half to finish with 16, but seven of those arrived from four different players during one seven-minute first-half stretch. Nebraska cashed in 24 points off Iowa miscues.
Iowa had done a decent job of managing turnovers as of late, but it’s still been a problem too many times this season. A slew of them stuck the Hawkeyes in an insurmountable hole.
Just as quickly as Iowa’s 3-point shooting resurfaced Thursday, it vanished once again Sunday. The Hawkeyes finished 1-for-12 from deep after going 9-for-17 against the Buckeyes, again illustrating what can happen if Iowa shows up cold.
The Hawkeyes need the deep ball to complement Gustafson’s inside production, which arrived again (26 points) but hardly mattered.
Up and down
Call the week a push, at best.
After Thursday’s upset, Iowa had a great opportunity to solidify an extremely productive week on both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament fronts. But Sunday’s dismal performance quickly erased all that energy.
"I think that's what makes it so weird," Bluder said. "I never dreamed of this coming. I thought we'd come out on a roll, and we obviously didn't. We just looked a little flat to begin this game. We looked surprised by their defense, which we just played them a week-and-a-half ago. But that's what I think makes it surprising is because the energy was so great against Ohio State."
The Hawkeyes have shown impressive flashes against the conference’s upper echelon, but enough lapses have been sprinkled in between, too. Another tough week awaits against two potential NCAA Tournament teams in Michigan State (Thursday) and Minnesota (Sunday), giving Iowa little time to dwell on Sunday's stumble.
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.