Prior to the season much of the lineup talk around the Iowa basketball team was about going small.
How would Iowa look with its diminutive point guard duo of Whitney Jennings and Tania Davis on the court together.
On Sunday, fans got their first look at Iowa’s big lineup, with posts Megan Gustafson and Chase Coley on the court together.
The duo played nearly 10 minutes together in a 76-56 loss to Maryland, and Iowa coach Lisa Bluder liked what she saw from the post combo.
“It is something that you will see more,” Bluder said. “We have really tried to tweak our offense with those two in to make it workable with two posts in and it has taken a little bit of time.”
Bluder said they began prepping to play Coley and Gustafson together during the holiday break leading up to the Big Ten opener at Nebraska.
Sunday was the first time the two played together, and the experiment proved to be a success.
Gustafson had 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting against the Terrapins. She also had nine rebounds as Iowa outrebounded the top rebounding team in the conference, 38-37.
“I thought it was effective,” Bluder said. “I think of the seven times we ran our offense, one particular one we were way successful five times, that’s a pretty high rate, and the other way ran it we were successful two out of four times and both of those averages were better than when we had our starters in together."
Both Gustafson and Coley have excelled this season while splitting time at the center spot.
Coley, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, is averaging 10.4 points and 5.3 rebounds and is shooting 54 percent while starting all 16 games.
The 6-foot-3 Gustafson is averaging 9.0 points and 4.9 rebounds off the bench and leads Iowa in field-goal percentage at 57 percent.
“These are the two most productive kids field goal-wise and we just wanted to see if there was a way to get them on the floor at the same time together,” Bluder said. “We’ve kind of been experimenting and I think it is a good thing.”
STANDING STRONG: Ohio State and early-season surprise Purdue are atop the Big Ten standings at 4-0, while Maryland and Michigan State are a game back at 3-1.
After that it gets a little congested.
Five teams, including Iowa and its opponent on Wednesday, Wisconsin, are 2-2 entering play this week.
“Anyone truly can win on any given night in the Big Ten,” Iowa junior Ally Disterhoft said. “Every night you have to come out and perform because you never know if that game is going to make a difference at the end of the year.”
GOING SOLO: Four of Iowa’s first five Big Ten games this season have come against teams that the Hawkeyes play only once.
As Bluder reminded her team those solo meetings, like the one Iowa has at Wisconsin on Wednesday, can be big as head-to-head meetings are a tiebreaker in seeding for the conference tournament.
“These solo meetings are so important because if it comes down to head-to-head competition it’s how you bump ahead of somebody,” Bluder said. “That is really important for the seeding for the conference tournament, but it’s also important for the NCAA selection because not many times do they take teams that are below in the final standings.”
Iowa is 2-1 against teams it plays only once thus far this season, defeating Nebraska and Rutgers and falling to Maryland.
FINISHING STRONG: It’s only four games into the conference season but Iowa has been outscored 79-52 in the fourth quarter of its four Big Ten games.
Bluder isn’t calling it a trend yet, but the longtime coach is keeping an eye on how her team closes out games.
“It’s only four games deep and I think the last two games have really skewed that a little bit so I don’t think we need to worry too much about it yet, but certainly we’ve talked about closing the game,” Bluder said. “Anytime we are on the floor we want to close it out. I hope it doesn’t become an issue.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.