Iowa women's basketball: Hawkeyes pull away late for season-opening win over Florida Atlantic
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The final chapter on last season’s Elite Eight run closed moments before tip Thursday, as Iowa received the banner commemorating such a magical year.
It soon became clear these re-tooling Hawkeyes will need some time to mesh.
As much as Iowa emphasized moving on from its much-heralded senior class that featured the program’s all-time darling, the transition to a rebranded type of basketball wasn’t going to evolve overnight. A lack of veteran inside forces, combined with more 3-point reliance, is going to have things looking different.
The final ledger tampered any upset vibes — Iowa took control down the stretch for an 85-53 season-opening win over Florida Atlantic — but the victory didn’t come as comfortably as perhaps indicated. Against an Owls team picked 10th in Conference USA following a five-win campaign, the Hawkeyes (1-0) didn’t punch the gas until the final 15 minutes.
Senior Kathleen Doyle poured in a team-high 15 points and reached 1,000 for her career. Also cracking double digits were Monika Czinano (14), Alexis Sevillian (12), Gabbie Marshall (11) and McKenna Warnock (10). Members of that group helped spark a 9-0 third-quarter run that turned a modest seven-point advantage into a 16-point cushion. Enough offense and a bevy of FAU clanks eliminated any tension.
Still, Iowa’s box score offers work. The now perimeter-fueled Hawkeyes finished 8-for-22 from deep, which included a 3-for-12 start and three fourth-quarter makes with the outcome established. Couple that with 24 turnovers, and you’ll see why Florida Atlantic hung within reach deep into the third quarter.
Ultimately, though, Iowa’s depth and overall prowess wore down Florida Atlantic enough for a convincing win. The Hawkeyes remain perfect in season-openers under Lisa Bluder. That’ll do for now.
"It was a pretty ugly game," Doyle said, "but we'll take the win."
Some observations from Thursday’s win:
Iowa's offense was a mixed bag; we'll call it effectively ugly at times.
It took Iowa seven-plus minutes to enter double figures and 26 to construct a double-digit lead. Even while reaching 85 points, not much about the Hawkeyes' offensive performance illustrated basketball beauty.
That's to be expected with the changes made. There's no all-American safety net lurking down low, who can score with ease and open up perimeter holes. No need to panic after one seesawing performance, but the Hawkeyes know more flow must come.
"It's just going to get better and smoother from here," Doyle said. "We're implementing a new offense, and it's going to take time and experience when you're going against other opponents to really get used to that.
"We just have to work out the kinks."
The biggest plus came from the free-throw line.
Iowa finished 31-for-40 at the charity stripe, three attempts off the Carver-Hawkeye Arena record. Four different players hit six-plus free throws. It made for some painful stretches, but that's what the Hawkeyes want to do.
Credit Bluder's squad for capitalizing on the chances.
"Our offense is designed to get us to the free-throw line a lot," Bluder said. "We got there a lot. When you shoot 40 free throws, you're drawing a ton of fouls. But that's not unusual with this offense. When we ran this offense before, we got to the free-throw line a lot. That's a big part of what we're trying to do."
Let’s assess Iowa’s bench play.
Bluder rolled with her starting five — Doyle, Sevillian, Czinano, Amanda Ollinger and Makenzie Meyer — for a little more than three minutes before leaning on the bench. First came Kate Martin, then Marshall two minutes later. Tomi Taiwo also entered in the opening quarter. Warnock and Logan Cook appeared early in the second to finish out the primary rotation.
Marshall and Warnock had the most impactful showings, combining for 21 points and 14 rebounds in 29 total minutes. Warnock provided nice relief for Czinano, who picked up her fourth foul with 8:42 left in the third and sat for nearly 12 minutes.
Marshall, despite landing two first-quarter fouls, looked poised and ready during her bounce-back second half. She had all 11 points after the break, including a big trey midway through the third that pushed Iowa's lead back to six.
"After those first two fouls, my teammates encouraged me and kept me calm," Marshall said. "I just came back in the second half and finished strong."
Until a rhythm materializes, expect Bluder to keep the bench long in the early going. The Hawkeyes need to see all they have to work with in this new beginning.
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.