Lisa Bluder breaks down Iowa's strong defensive effort vs. UNI Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — There was a little layoff rust to shake off, but Iowa eventually hit the gas hard in Sunday’s in-state showdown.
Building off of a strong first-half finish, the No. 15 Hawkeyes buried Northern Iowa with an emphatic third quarter, rolling to an 83-57 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa (8-2) has won 12 straight in the series.
Up-and-down play early gave UNI an opening, but a 17-2 Hawkeye run to end the second quarter handed Iowa a 35-24 intermission lead. That spilled into the second half as a 26-11 third quarter turned this one into a rout.
The Panthers (5-4) ran help at Megan Gustafson any chance they got, but Iowa’s all-American had little trouble in putting up another ridiculous stat line. The final tally: 28 points, 12 rebounds and three missed shots on 14 attempts — better known as just another day at the office.
Beyond Gustafson, Iowa saw plenty of contributions from the roster's other seniors. Hannah Stewart and Tania Davis both reached double figures, too. Kathleen Doyle added 13 in her return to the starting lineup.
UNI had trouble cracking the Hawkeyes' defense all afternoon. The Panthers finished 22-for-62 shooting and 8-for-27 from deep, failing to put a player in double digits until late in the fourth.
"The first quarter and a half, I thought our mindset was good," UNI coach Tanya Warren said. "We were extremely good, defensively. We were locked in. And then we were up 22-17, I think, and we turned it over a couple times and missed some shots.
"We allowed our inability to make shots the last five minutes bleed into what we were doing so well, defensively."
Here's what we learned:
Flexing the defensive prowess
Everyone knows that Iowa's offense can roll with just about anyone, but this day was about the other end of the court. Hawkeye opponents entered averaging 70.1 points per game. UNI never came close to even sniffing that.
Iowa didn’t yield more than 12 points in each of the game's first three quarters — contested looks and tough shots were all the Panthers got.
"We talked a lot about 3-point defense and how we needed to really run them off that line," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "I thought our players did a really good job of communicating — especially on switches.
"And we were playing a lot of the year without Doyle, and Doyle is one of our better perimeter defensive players. That does help."
The state saw this week on the men’s side how magnified in-state matchups are, and nothing was different on the women’s side. Iowa values these showdowns as much as anyone.
After Sunday, the Hawkeyes have a chance to do something never seen in program history: A win next Friday at Drake would mark the first time the Hawkeyes have ever swept its in-state opponents in back-to-back seasons in which they've played all three other Division I teams.
"It would be amazing — especially with me, being a senior," Gustafson said. "Tania can probably say the same thing. This is our last chance to be able to compete for a state title wearing this jersey. I'm really excited, and I know my teammates are excited."
Regrouping on the fly
Tanya Warren: We let missed shots affect our defense Hawk Central
No question it’s been an emotional stretch for UNI, which lost its top weapon the last time out. Megan Maahs is done for the year, and the Panthers are still figuring out how to adjust.
Sunday was UNI’s first action since Maahs went down Dec. 4 against North Dakota. The Panthers eventually ran out of steam, but their early showing against a ranked squad at least provides hope that this season won’t take a nose dive.
"It's a big loss ... but I think the 12 days of practice were good for us just to kind of have people step up in new roles," said Karli Rucker, who had a team-high 16 points. "No one is going to replace Megan, but everyone just needs to do a little bit more."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.