Iowa women's basketball: What we learned from the Hawkeyes' win over Robert Morris

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Sandwiched between two tough nonconference tests, Sunday’s home showdown against Robert Morris was supposed to be a get-right game for the Hawkeyes.

The final tally mostly reflected that — a 92-63 Iowa win — but there were more tense times than expected.

Iowa forward Megan Gustafson (10) attempts a basket past Robert Morris' Nade'ge Pluviose (32) during a NCAA women's basketball game on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

The No. 15 Hawkeyes (5-2) didn’t fully pull away until the final period, using a 25-5 fourth quarter to put the pesky Colonials away. Robert Morris (1-6) entered on a four-game losing streak and had just one win to its name, but it had Iowa on the ropes midway through the third quarter — down just four. Another batch of Hawkeye turnovers kept the game close.

“They had more shot opportunities (in the third quarter) than we did because of the turnovers,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “Then defensively, attention to detail. How do we handle screens? How do we communicate? Are we in help side? I thought we had no help side in that third quarter, and then we got a lot better and held them to five points in the fourth quarter.

“That’s the defensive effort we really want all the time.”   

Megan Gustafson, as she is against many undersized teams, was unstoppable down low. The senior forward finished with a double-double (32 points, 12 rebounds) and missed two of her 15 shots.

The Hawkeyes got double-digit contributions from Hannah Stewart (16 points) and Makenzie Meyer (12) as well.

Here’s what we learned:

Putting it all together

Amid facing four Power Five foes in a 13-day stretch, this was Iowa’s one breather. After Thursday’s drubbing at Notre Dame and with the Cy-Hawk game on deck Wednesday, Iowa needed some positivity.

The emphatic fourth quarter shouldn’t make Sunday’s result too big of a concern, but the Hawkeyes must put four quarters together against Iowa State. They’ve yet to do so against their tougher foes.

“Coming off a couple tough losses, that’s always kind of giving us a chip on our shoulder,” Gustafson said. “Being able to go in and have a good game was really important. We did in the first and fourth quarters. We’re going to get four quarters of good game coming up here.”

A balancing act

There’s a balancing act between concern and acceptance when it comes to Iowa’s turnovers.

The Hawkeyes like to push the pace, and miscues are going to happen as a result. Still, Iowa has 16 or more turnovers in four straight games. Entering Sunday, the Hawkeyes’ turnover margin (minus-4.5) ranked worst in the Big Ten.

“You sometimes have a few more turnovers when you’re an up-tempo team, but we had several that were our own destiny — that we controlled ourselves,” Bluder said. “A lot of them were passing decisions, and so we have to clean up our passing decisions. We must, because we can’t give people more opportunities than we have to score.”

Pushing forward

Turning the page was imperative following the Notre Dame loss, so credit Iowa for avoiding a catastrophic letdown. The season marches on with plenty of opportunities ahead.

We took that game, Stewart said, “and had to look at, ‘OK, we lost by a bunch, but how much was what we controlled and how much was what Notre Dame did?’ Yeah, they’re the No. 1 team in the country — super athletic, super-good basketball players — but there were a lot of things in that game that were under our control that we did very poorly.

“So we had to look at that and move forward and learn from those things and not make those mistakes again.”     

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.