Iowa women's basketball: Hawkeyes survive wild OT thriller against Princeton

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It became clear early that Iowa was in for another rugged grind.

So it goes as these Hawkeyes try to find their way. Until something stabilizes offensively and with the rotation, any foe — no matter how daunting or not — will give Iowa a run. Florida Atlantic did just that into the third quarter to start the year. North Alabama pushed the Hawkeyes until the final minute. Northern Iowa ran its in-state foe out of the gym.

Wednesday, it was Princeton’s turn.

The Tigers, picked atop the preseason Ivy League poll, weren’t afraid of the Power Five challenge. And after Julia Cunningham’s banked-in trey with 0.8 seconds on the clock improbably forced overtime, it seemed Princeton might escape with an incredible win.

"We did a great job in the huddle right away," Kathleen Doyle said, "saying, 'This isn't over.'" 

Credit Iowa’s young unit for shaking off that stunned feeling. The Hawkeyes, despite giving up the first six points of overtime, clawed back for a circuitous 77-75 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa Hawkeyes players huddle up with Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder after a NCAA non-conference women's basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa. The Hawkeyes defeated Princeton, 77-75, in OT.

"It's a great lesson," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said, "and I think we'll be able to fall back on this lesson several times throughout the season, coming back in an overtime victory. There are so many things we can draw upon, and it turned out successfully.

"You love to learn lessons, but it's even more fun to learn them when you win. It's hard to learn them when you lose. It's painful."

Where to start with this one. 

We'll pick up midway through overtime, as Iowa faced a 73-67 deficit with the Princeton bench pumping. Then came Makenzie Meyer’s trey to ignite the Hawkeyes, leading to a string of defensive stops and tough drives on the other end. Iowa, as a result, buried five free throws in a little over a minute. Doyle hit two more to give Iowa a 77-74 lead.

The Hawkeyes (3-1) survived a questionable act-of-shooting foul call on Meyer with one tick left, which gave Princeton a chance to tie with three free throws. Cunningham made just one of three.

That was nothing compared to regulation's end.

A hectic finishing stretch saw four lead changes and one tie in the final 66 seconds. Doyle’s two free throws with 31 seconds left seemingly provided the final change, after Princeton answered Amanda Ollinger’s layup with Bella Alarie’s own paint conversion. The Hawkeyes needed one stop after Doyle’s swishes and got it. Meyer then buried two free throws. Less than a second stood between Iowa and a riveting comeback victory. 

Cunningham wasn’t having it.

Princeton got the ball at midcourt after a timeout, and Cunningham threw up a prayer that ricocheted in and the horn blared. It wasn't really a shot, more of a desperation heave from the edge of the Tigerhawk logo. That could’ve been the end of Iowa’s clear-thinking psyche.

"I'm really proud of how this young group refocused," Doyle said, "and had confidence in ourselves to finish the game out strong." 

Consider that a microcosm of the entire affair. The Hawkeyes hit nothing early on, slogging through a five-minute scoring drought and a six-minute stretch without a field goal. Its final offensive numbers still weren’t pretty — 10-for-27 from deep with 15 turnovers — but Iowa at least resurfaced in time to have a chance late .

The Hawkeyes ripped off a third-quarter 10-0 run, buoyed by back-to-back treys from freshmen Gabbie Marshall and McKenna Warnock. That shrunk a 45-35 deficit to even. Iowa needed another 7-0 run in the last five minutes to pull ahead by one after Princeton went back up, 60-54.

Doyle led the Hawkeyes with 21 points and got double-digit help from Meyer (19) and Monika Czinano, despite playing just 19 minutes. Alarie was relentless with 26 points.

Not much is going to come easy with this Iowa bunch. The Hawkeyes, though, will take surviving right now.

"We were just ready to throw another punch," Meyer 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 msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.