Iowa women takeaways: Bring on the zone, historically good defense

Matthew Bain
Iowa's Tania Davis huddles with teammates after drawing a foul during the Hawkeyes' game against Oral Roberts at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016.

Ally Disterhoft, who could wind up Iowa’s all-time scoring leader, netted zero points in the first half Saturday morning against Massachusetts. Yet the Hawkeyes still led 39-10 entering the break.

That’s probably a good sign — just one of many in Iowa’s wire-to-wire, 71-30 win over the Minutewomen. Energy wasn’t an issue for Iowa in the bright and early 10:30 a.m. tip. In fact, there really weren’t any issues.

Nine Hawkeyes scored and all 12 available played. Four put up double-digit points and, as a team, Iowa out-rebounded UMass 48-33.

Here are some takeaways from “The Coffee Game.”

We'll take more zone, please

UMass runs a 3-2 zone defense. Iowa had seen zone schemes in bits and pieces through its 3-0 start, but this was its first game against a team whose primary strategy is the zone.

And the Hawkeyes likey. Oh, the Hawkeyes likey a lot.

Iowa consistently shattered UMass’ zone with crisp perimeter passes, opportunistic mid-range jumpers, and smart screens and movement to set up Megan Gustafson and Hannah Stewart in the paint.

"It's just having patience," Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said. "I think sometimes you can get in a rush, especially if you are a team that likes to score points, like we do. You want to fastbreak, and then have the wherewithal to pull it out and understand that you can set up and run your offense and work for the good shot, even an inside shot, instead of taking the first shot you have."

You’re not supposed to thrive in the paint against a zone, but the Hawkeyes scored 32 inside.

You are supposed to rely on the 3-ball against a zone, and nobody exploited that more than Alexa Kastanek. The senior Platoon Two leader led all scorers with 17, and she hit five of 10 3-pointers. As a team, Iowa shot 31 percent (9-for-29) beyond the arc.

“Every shooter really loves to see a zone, because you don’t have that hand in your face constantly," Kastanek said. "You don’t have to come off screens for the 3. So just knowing that my teammates can get me the open shots that I love to knock down, it was really, really nice.”

Iowa finished with 24 assists on their 29 baskets, probably the best numbers to look at when gauging how a team fared against the zone. That’s by far Iowa’s best assist-to-basket ratio of the young season. Meanwhile, UMass had two assists on its 11 baskets.

Disterhoft paced Iowa with five assists. Eight other players recorded an assist, with Davis, Kastanek and Doyle adding four to the tally.

South Dakota State, Iowa's opponent in Sunday's Hawkeye Challenge final, plays man-to-man defense. The Jackrabbits handled Montana 84-43 after Iowa's game Saturday.

Hawkeyes make history

Defense most certainly was not Iowa's calling card last season. It ranked 10th in the Big Ten Conference in opponent field goal percentage (42.1 percent) and ninth in opponent points per game (71.3).

But at least so far this season, it seems the weakness has blossomed into a strength.

Iowa’s holding opponents to 54.3 points on 27.9 percent shooting. It limited UMass to an abysmal 19 percent mark from the field (11-for-57). And the Minutewomen’s top two scorers, Ryan Holder and Hailey Leidel, combined for four points on 1-of-22 shooting.

Here's some more: UMass' 10 first-half points are the fewest Iowa has allowed in a first half in program history. The previous low was 11, which West Virginia mustered against Iowa in 1992.

Beyond relentlessly aggressive guard play improved post strength, there’s another, quite simple reason for the new-look defense: The Hawkeyes aren’t tired.

They played 12 against UMass and nobody logged more than 24 minutes. The Minutewomen played seven and five logged at least 34 minutes.

“I think it does have to do a lot with the platoon system," Kastanek said. "Because every team and every basketball player knows that defense is the most tiring thing you do in basketball. Offense is the fun stuff. You get to run around and do what you want. But defense, you have to read other people. And when you get tired and have to play 40 minutes a game, that’s when that can start to wear on you."

Platoon watch

There were some minor changes here and there, but for the most part Iowa’s Platoon One was Makenzie Meyer, Disterhoft, Gustafson, Tania Davis and Bre Cera. Platoon Two was Kathleen Doyle, Coley, Stewart, Christina Buttenham, Kastanek and Amanda Ollinger.

Platoon One played 22:43 and outscored UMass 40-20.

Platoon Two played 17:17 and outscored UMass 31-10. The Twos edged UMass 18-0 through their first 8:09 on the court.

Bain covers Hawkeyes basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.