IOWA CITY, Ia. — Barely a year into its Division I conquest, North Alabama trekked into Carver-Hawkeye Arena looking for a stunner. Iowa had to do all it could to fight off one.
The Hawkeyes may have led for all but 30 seconds of the fourth quarter in Thursday's 86-81 win, but there was hardly a comfortable feel. North Alabama pushed Iowa all the way until the final minute before un-cooperatively exiting.
"That's a good team," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder told reporters. "Five veteran starters back. ... Those kids work hard, fight hard, and I was really impressed with North Alabama."
Iowa (2-0) got 21 points from Makenzie Meyer, 20 from Kathleen Doyle and another 18 from Monika Czinano on a perfect 9-for-9 night. Freshman Gabbie Marshall, who made her first-career start with Alexis Sevillian (foot) sidelined, also joined her teammates in double figures. Offense was no problem on this night.
Shaky defense is what kept North Alabama around. The Lions shot better than 50 percent (33-for-65) and had four crack double digits. Even rebounding totals and 50 points in the paint had the Lions ahead one, 59-58, with nine-and-a-half minutes left.
"We were scared about their 3-point shooting," Bluder said. "They're excellent 3-point shooters, and we did a pretty good job. They had been shooting about 40 percent, so we held them below that (at 33 percent). But we obviously gave up too much in transition."
The Hawkeyes went almost three minutes without a field goal once the clock ticked under five minutes, but four Meyer free throws and key treys from Doyle and Marshall helped stifle the upset bid. It wasn't until North Alabama missed two free throws down three in the last 20 seconds that Iowa officially escaped.
Thursday's performance wasn't a great follow-up to what was, at times, a pedestrian season-opening win. Iowa doesn't have much longer of a trial run, either — the Hawkeyes head to suddenly-hot Northern Iowa (3-0) Sunday for an afternoon showdown. UNI will be hunting its second Power Five win this week after toppling Missouri on Wednesday.
"It's our first road game, so that'll be a new experience for us," Bluder said, "another learning opportunity for us."
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.