Iowa standout Megan Gustafson breaks down her first collegiate 3-pointer. Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Wednesday’s battle for Big Ten Conference supremacy will be a lesson on pace. Iowa and Rutgers don’t overlap much when it comes to how each team likes to roll. One prefers to push; the other would rather grind it out defensively. Control the pace, and there’s a good chance you’ll emerge victorious.
“We are two different (teams).” Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said. “The way that we play is completely different. The tempo that we play at is very different. Although Rutgers tries to heighten you with their defense and tries to get you out of sync with your defense, and it’s pretty successful for the most part."
“We need to continue to push the ball in transition because that’s what we do. We want to continue to try to do that, and we just can’t get too amped up by looking at the scoreboard and see that we’re not scoring as many points as we usually do. We can’t get caught up in that and lose our focus.”
It’ll be a clash of offensive prowess and defensive intensity when No. 15 Iowa (14-4, 5-2 Big Ten Conference) and No. 18 Rutgers (15-3, 7-0) meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes are built on flash and flow, having scored 70-plus points in 16 of 18 contests while ranking second nationally in assists per game. Rutgers, meanwhile, hasn’t allowed a foe to get to 70 all year. The Scarlet Knights’ ball-pressure and in-your-face defense has been especially potent during their 10-game winning streak, where opponents are averaging only 55 points per game.
Both styles have worked well. Rutgers sits atop the conference standings, Iowa in a three-way tie for second as Big Ten play nears the halfway point. Wednesday’s matchup could carry tiebreaker implications down the road.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” senior guard Tania Davis said. “Number one team in the conference. They’re on a roll. It’s going to be really fun, and they’re a great team obviously. We’re looking for a great environment out there."
“(This matchup) means a lot. It’s going to be a tight one, just to see how this Big Ten season is going and how teams are playing right now. There’s no guarantee (on where we might end up in the standings), so this game is very important.”
If there was ever a good time to face Rutgers’ defensive stinginess, now might be it, considering the week Iowa just had. In going 3-0 with two road wins, the Hawkeyes saw their guard play resurface around their usual post dominance.
Iowa averaged 83 points per game in victories over Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois. Not exactly murderers’ row, but confidence restoration can come in many forms. The Hawkeyes hope that spills over into Wednesday.
“We went into the week, I think people were wondering about our guards shooting the ball,” Bluder said. “And now, they’ve proved they can shoot the ball, drive the ball, pass the ball. And when we’re hitting on all those elements with our guard play, we’re much more difficult to defend. We’re a different animal ourselves. We just need to keep believing in ourselves that we are capable of doing that because we’re pretty good when we do.”
Bracketologies are trickling out, and the latest from ESPN’s Charlie Crème has Iowa hosting first- and second-round games as a No. 4 seed. Rutgers is slotted the same. It's going to be a while before March is in full focus, but a win like this could be a nice resume enhancer for either side.
Start first with who dictates the pace.
“We’ve really got to control our tempo,” Gustafson said.
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.