Hawkeyes hunting for consistency following OT triumph

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It’s been a roller coaster ride through the Big Ten Conference slate so far, as Iowa has produced a basketball mixture of momentous wins and tough losses. Now, the Hawkeyes are hunting for consistency.

The Hawkeyes haven't won back-to-back games in more than a month. After Thursday's OT win, they'll get a chance to do so Sunday vs. Minnesota.

After bouncing back from Sunday’s drubbing versus Nebraska with Thursday’s gritty overtime win at Michigan State, Iowa (17-6, 5-5 Big Ten) is back home for another conference rematch. The Hawkeyes host Minnesota (17-5, 6-3) on Sunday at 2 p.m., exactly two weeks after the Golden Gophers knocked off Iowa, 77-72, in Minneapolis.

The Hawkeyes have played .500 ball over the last month and will be looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since late December, when Iowa opened Big Ten play with victories over Wisconsin and Michigan.

Thursday’s performance, though, revealed resiliency and toughness. Just four days after getting slaughtered on its home court, Iowa gutted out a road win despite not playing its best. The Hawkeyes had 24 turnovers, shot 19 percent from deep (3-for-16) and missed 11 free throws, but Iowa clamped down defensively when it needed to late.

Lisa Bluder hopes that resolve spills over. 

“In athletics, if you don’t erase the negatives, they will just keep repeating themselves,” the Hawkeyes coach said. “You have to move on, and honestly, we learned from (the Nebraska loss) the next day in practice, put it aside and we move on.

“If you don’t, you’re in trouble.”

Although Minnesota boasts one of the top 3-point offenses in both the Big Ten and the country, Iowa actually did a decent job of limiting the Gophers’ downtown attack in the first matchup. Minnesota was 4-for-15 from deep in the Jan. 21 win, but owned a 45-40 edge on the glass with 18 offensive rebounds. Destiny Pitts was the lone 3-point standout, knocking down three in only 11 minutes.

“Looking back on it the first time, we really did not box out well,” Bluder said. “They had 15 points off of 18 offensive rebounds. We had (only two) threes in that game, but that was (Makenzie Meyer’s) first game back. So we were just getting used to having her back in the rotation again and all those sorts of things. I think Mack is feeling a lot more comfortable out there, a lot more confident. She doesn’t’ have to wear the brace anymore.

“But we definitely need to work on our box-outs, and we can’t let those 3-point shooters get loose. For example, Destiny Pitts scored 11 points and only played 11 minutes. She is their freshman power forward who shoots over 40 percent from 3-point range. She shoots a ton on them, and we can’t lose her. It’s paying attention to that scouting and not having those brain lapses where we lose people.”

The Hawkeyes struggled from three as well (2-for-14), yet still had the game tied, 68-68, with 2 minutes, 15 seconds to play. Minnesota, though, was clutch from the line late, hitting 13 of 14 free throws in the final 90 seconds to secure the win.

Kenisha Bell (19.3 ppg) and Carlie Wagner (17.9 ppg) are again atop the scouting report as the Gophers’ two leading scorers. That duo combined for 36 points in the first matchup.

But Iowa enters with confidence after Thursday’s triumph.

“I’m so proud of everyone on our team,” Megan Gustafson said after the Michigan State win, “to be able to put that (Nebraska loss) behind us and keep being positive.”

Iowa’s challenge now is generate more positivity — and halt the rollercoaster ride.   

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 msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.