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Iowa women's basketball: No. 20 Hawkeyes shake off sluggish start, push past Nebraska

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The start was anything but a basketball masterpiece as both sides threw up clank after clank to no avail. How long would these sputters last?

Three minutes?

Four minutes?

Five?

The dust settled at three minutes, 26 seconds before a point appeared Thursday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa stopped the drought with a Monika Czinano layup. Nebraska needed another 90 seconds before it connected from the field.

Nowhere to go but up from an opening five minutes that totaled eight points, right?

No. 20 Iowa eventually pulled away from the Cornhuskers in the third quarter for a 76-60 win. The Hawkeyes (19-4, 10-2 Big Ten Conference) have now covered two calendar years in racking up 33 straight home victories.

After a sluggish shooting night six weeks ago in Lincoln resulted in a 78-69 Iowa loss, it looked early as if the rematch would be a duplication. The Hawkeyes had fewer than 20 first-quarter points for the fourth straight game. A Kathleen Doyle trey in the first-half’s final minute kept Iowa from being tied at the break.

A cavalcade finally broke the ice late in the third.

McKenna Warnock ripped off five consecutive points. Czinano (23 points) buried two easy ones to keep the momentum flowing. Doyle, who finished with 15 points and a school-record 15 assists, sank back-to-back jumpers for the Hawkeyes’ first double-digit lead. Amanda Ollinger (11 points, 12 rebounds) helped push Iowa into winning time with a 57-45 advantage.

“I’m really proud of my team,” Czinano said. “We definitely found some open people, knocked down some open shots that really changed the course of the game. But I’m even more proud of us on defense. We were all moving really well, talking really well, and I think that’s what gave us the outcome we got today.”   

The Hawkeyes then rode their support home. A nice crowd peppered with glowstick giveaways had long forgotten that putrid opening act as the final seconds ticked away.   

Nebraska, meanwhile, never recovered from its early woes. The Huskers (15-8, 5-7) shot 27% from deep and had only 40 points outside of Leigha Brown’s 20.   

“We were trying to mix up our defenses a little bit to keep them off track, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I thought our 3-point defense was really good tonight.

“We held them to about 10% what they usually shoot, and we shot the ball a whole lot better than we did over at their place. We also did a great job keeping them off the boards. That’s something we’ve been stressing a lot, and it was really nice to get those extra possessions.”      

If there were any lingering concerns regarding Czinano’s ankle injury, she squashed them with a nice opening half that kept Iowa afloat during offensive lulls.

Czinano trotted to the locker room at intermission with almost half of Iowa’s field goals (7 of 15) and 40% of its points (14 of 35). The Hawkeyes’ sluggish start — three field goals over the first seven minutes — could've been an instant back-breaker without her.

That’s precisely why Iowa needed its sophomore center full-go as soon as possible.

Even when things bog down offensively, Iowa can dump it into Czinano and let her go to work. She wasn’t herself last Sunday at Michigan in a limited role — and the Hawkeyes felt the pain.

There were no limitations on this night.

"Monika's really good for us on the block, scoring," Doyle said. "Amanda was definitely holding her own in those other games, but it's nice to have another big player in there, especially so we can avoid foul trouble and stuff like that. It's nice to have our depth back in the post, for sure."    

Iowa center Monika Czinano, middle, is embraced by teammates Kate Martin, Kathleen Doyle, Alexis Sevillian, and Makenzie Meyer after drawing a foul during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game against Nebraska, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

A few of Nebraska’s players were on the 2017-18 squad, which handed Iowa its last home loss. There were moments Thursday where the Huskers appeared to be in upset territory again.

Iowa, despite the early troubles, wasn’t having it.

"Eventually," Doyle said, "everything settled down." 

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.