Lisa Bluder breaks down Iowa's big win over Illinois. Dargan Southard, email@example.com
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Only in principle did Thursday night carry some trap-game elements. Iowa and Illinois are too far apart for any of that to matter.
The No. 13 Hawkeyes rolled to an 88-66 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, showing no signs of distracted focus on Sunday’s top-15 showdown versus Maryland. Looking ahead could’ve made Thursday’s contest closer than it needed to be, but Iowa (20-5, 11-3 Big Ten Conference) buried the league’s worst squad rather easily.
"It was really important to just focus on the game that's right here," senior Megan Gustafson said. "We really focused on our preparation and our scout. We're obviously excited for the next game, but I thought our team did a great job of just focusing on one game at a time."
Gustafson set the conference’s all-time mark with her 78th career double-double (27 points, 17 rebounds). She needed less than a half to make history.
It was a balanced offensive night beyond that. Ten Hawkeyes scored as Iowa shot 55 percent with 19 assists. It was an off night from deep (5-for-15), but the Hawkeyes dominated inside en route to strong paint and free-throw numbers.
Illinois (10-15, 2-12) hung around for about five minutes before Iowa regrouped and rolled. A 46-34 halftime advantage ballooned to 20 to start the fourth. The Hawkeyes had reserves in with three minutes to play.
"Happy with four people in double figures. We shot the ball well. High assists, but I'm also really excited about the rebounding," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "We really dominated the boards. We held them to 21 percent offensive rebounds, where we got 42 percent of offensive rebounds. That's pretty significant, and it allowed us to get our transition going."
Thursday marked the return of Makenzie Meyer (hyper-extended knee), who didn’t start but checked in early in the first. It was her first action since falling hard in the third quarter at Penn State on Feb. 3.
Meyer wore a protective brace on her left knee similar to Tania Davis’, but production wasn’t hampered by any means. The Mason City product finished with 10 points in 17 minutes.
"It's always frustrating getting injured, but I was lucky that I was only out for two games," Meyer said. "I know it could've been a lot worse."
Freshman Tomi Taiwo still saw extended action, playing double-digit minutes for the third straight game. She entered in the opening period and got some fourth-quarter action with the starters as well.
Bluder preached all week that Maryland wasn’t a big deal until Illinois was conquered. No problem there. Now everything flips to Sunday for Iowa’s most important game to date. With an ESPN2 audience watching, the Hawkeyes can send a loud message.
"We're excited for sure," Gustafson said. "We're just going to keep on focusing on preparing for each and every single game, no matter who we're playing. This is obviously going to be a fun game, and we're expecting a nice crowd."
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.