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Lisa Bluder: 'Our focus was amazing.' Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Brutal weather and an 8 p.m. tip made for an unfortunately small crowd, but those who did trek to Carver-Hawkeye Arena Thursday night received a solid show.

No. 16 Iowa kept perfection going at home, emerging with an 86-71 win over No. 21 Michigan State in a rematch from Dec. 30. The Hawkeyes (18-5, 9-3 Big Ten Conference) looked much better this time around. They’re now 12-0 at home this year.

The Iowa game plan had little disguise. The Hawkeyes pounded it inside to Ms. Reliable and stuck Michigan State in serious foul trouble. Megan Gustafson poured in a ho-hum 41 points on 17-for-24 shooting. Kathleen Doyle added 18.

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Thirty of Iowa’s first 39 points came in the paint, where the Hawkeyes finished with a 48-32 advantage. As a result, Iowa saw plenty of action at the line. It went 16-for-21 from the charity stripe.

There were stagnant moments in the second half, but Iowa was never truly challenged in a comfortable finish. A 50-38 intermission cushion hardly dipped below double digits after the break.

"Our focus was amazing," Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said. "We did some different things, were switching up defenses. Their communication was terrific, and the focus was amazing leading up to this game, both in our practices and tonight. 

"They were locked in. It was fun to see." 

Iowa did it all without Makenzie Meyer (hyper-extended knee), who’s considered day-to-day after her hard fall in Sunday’s win over Penn State. Meyer sat out Thursday after not playing the whole fourth against the Nittany Lions.

As Iowa stares down the conference slate’s final stretch, showings like Thursday’s reiterate how important postseason home games will be. Iowa is a different animal inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and landing a top-four seed — plus two home NCAA Tournament home games — would be monumental for this squad.

The best way to ensure that? Just keep winning.

Here's what we learned.

Blow the whistle

Five Spartans had at least three fouls; three had at least four. Jenna Allen fouled out midway through the fourth.

That tends to happen when Iowa gets its inside game rolling. Michigan State kept the whistles coming in trying to slow down the Hawkeyes’ paint production.

"When the people I'm playing against start getting in foul trouble, they start to hesitate," Gustafson said. "And that's when I can smell blood in the water. You just go after it, and I really try to put myself in the best position possible in those situations."  

In addition to a slew of easy baskets, Iowa made the Spartans’ fouling pay at the line. Bluder’s squad had a 16-7 edge in free throws, which only helps put a game away.  

Extending the bench

Meyer’s absence — coupled with Alexis Sevillian’s two first-half fouls — forced Iowa to lean on an extended rotation early on. The Hawkeyes had 12 first-half bench points, as the likes of Tomi Taiwo, Monika Czinano and Amanda Ollinger provided good runs.

The biggest beneficiary was the freshman Taiwo, who played a season-high 17 minutes and was in for most of the opening half. It was only her second game playing double-figure minutes — the first since Nov. 17 versus North Carolina Central.

If anything, Thursday gave a young player valuable experience in a tight game against a quality foe. Scenarios like that can prove crucial come March.    

"We definitely need it, and you just never know," Bluder said. "The situation like we faced today with Makenzie being out, other people stepped up. We came into practice Monday, and these guys didn't blink an eye." 

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.

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