Iowa women seek to slow Buckeye backcourt
Earlier this month, Iowa found the formula to a riddle that has flummoxed Big Ten squads all season.
How do you slow Ohio State's dynamic backcourt duo?
Iowa held Ameryst Alston and Kelsey Mitchell to their lowest combined scoring output of the season at 26 points in a 73-65 win over the Buckeyes on Feb. 5.
The question facing No. 13 Iowa (21-5, 12-3 Big Ten) in Saturday's rematch with Ohio State (18-9, 10-5) at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio gets even trickier – how do you do it again?
"We figure that they are going to make adjustments so we have to make adjustments," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "I think you have to remember what got you there what worked the first time and you start with that and you make adjustments as needed during the game."
In the first meeting Iowa held Mitchell, the nation's second leading scorer at 24.9 points per game, to 15 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
The 15 points are the third lowest output of the season for Mitchell, who has scored 20 or more points 20 times this season.
Alston had 11 on 4-of-15 shooting in the first meeting as the Buckeyes shot 39 percent from the floor against Iowa's zone defense.
"We were just able to key in on their big scorers and we knew where they were at all times in our zone and that is going to be another key to us on Saturday," Iowa senior Melissa Dixon said. "We are sticking to a majority of the same game plan because we did win and it did work, knowing where their key players are is a really big key."
An off night in Iowa City didn't slow Alston or Mitchell for long.
The duo combined for 48 in the Buckeye's next game and are averaging a combined 41 points over the last four games.
Alston (20.1 ppg) and Mitchell average a combined 45 points on the season to accounted for 57 percent of the Buckeyes scoring.
Mitchell and Alston have received some offensive assistance of late, namely from freshman Alexa Hart.
The 6-foot-3 Hart is averaging 15.3 points in the Buckeyes' four games since its loss in Iowa City.
Hart had 19 points in a 92-60 win over Purdue on Tuesday.
"Alexa Hart has been playing really well," Bluder said. "I think everybody focuses on those two guards so much that it really leaves the middle of the block open a lot times. We need to make sure we keep her in check but definitely focusing on those two other guards that are just outstanding."
Ohio State has won three of four since the Feb. 5 loss to the Hawkeyes and has vaulted itself into a three-way tie for fourth in the Big Ten Standings, two games behind Iowa for the second spot.
Saturday's meeting gives the Buckeyes an opportunity to pull within a game of Iowa.
"We have three games and I told the players we don't have to go 3-0 although it would be nice to do that but we certainly would love to go 2-1 in that three game stretch," Bluder said. "I think if we would go 1-2 it would drop us down to about fifth in the Big Ten standings. One game makes a big difference right now."
Saturday is as much about bouncing back as anything for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa had a four-game winning streak snapped with a 93-80 loss at Minnesota on Tuesday.
The Hawkeyes haven't dropped consecutive games since losing two straight to open Big Ten play last January and are 10-1 following a loss dating back to the start of last season.
"No one on our team likes to lose, we all hate losing," Dixon said. "It's so much fun when we are on a winning streak especially on the road getting those road wins so we love bouncing back and we love the challenge of getting on another streak."
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
No. 13 Iowa (21-5, 12-3 Big Ten) at Ohio State (18-9, 10-5)
• Specifics — 6 p.m. Value City Arena, Columbus, OH.
• Following the game — TV: BTN. Radio: KXIC (800 AM), WMT (AM 600), WHO (1040 AM) Hawkeye Radio Network. Live scoring: www.hawkeyesports.com.
• Preview — Iowa will go for the season sweep of Ohio State after winning 73-65 earlier this month in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes had a four-game winning streak snapped Tuesday at Minnesota and are trying to avoid losing back-to-back games for the first time since January of 2014.