Iowa women takeaways: Productive weekend, Kathleen Doyle's injury, Megan Gustafson dominance
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder, junior Megan Gustafson and redshirt freshman Alexis Sevillian met with the media Monday morning after the Hawkeyes’ productive opening weekend.
Iowa (2-0) knocked off Quinnipiac, 83-67, on Friday, then clawed back for a 104-97 overtime victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday to win the Hawkeye Challenge. The Bobcats were tabbed as preseason favorites in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, while the Hilltoppers were picked second in Conference USA.
Here are some of the key takeaways from Monday’s press conference:
'A lot of teams aren’t putting themselves into that kind of situation this time of year'
Starting the season against two likely NCAA Tournament teams certainly presents an early challenge, but the crunch-time experience gained could prove mighty beneficial in the coming months.
Both games saw Iowa locked in down-to-the-wire battles, having to pull off wins in the waning minutes. Although the Quinnipiac score ended up looking a bit lopsided, the Hawkeyes didn’t pull away until the back half of the fourth quarter after reeling off a late 28-8 run. Western Kentucky, meanwhile, pushed Iowa to the brink, owning a double-digit lead with seven minutes to play before the Hawkeyes clamped down, forced overtime and emerged victoriously.
Gustafson’s dominance was the weekend’s obvious headliner — but impressive showings from Tania Davis in her first games back from a torn ACL (14 points against Quinnipiac; 16 against Western Kentucky) and Sevillian in a reserve role stuck with Bluder as well.
“A lot of teams aren’t putting themselves into that kind of situation this time of year,” Bluder said, “and I think it’s going to pay dividends later.
"It gives the team confidence, knowing that, ‘Hey, we can be down and still pull out this victory. Let’s stay poised. Let’s stay confident throughout the whole thing.’ Which, for still a pretty young team, is impressive this time of year.”
An injury update on Doyle
Iowa’s weekend had only one real blemish, but it could be an impactful one: After Kathleen Doyle suffered a high-ankle sprain in Saturday’s win and was seen on crutches after the game, Bluder didn’t offer an optimistic assessment Monday:
“We don’t really know yet,” Bluder said. “Very questionable for Wednesday. I just really don’t know. She’s seen a doctor this morning, and I’ll know more later on. But very, very questionable for Wednesday.”
Doyle suffered the injury late in the fourth quarter while hustling for a rebound and didn’t return after the 5:56 mark of the final period. Losing the sophomore starter for any amount of time would be a detrimental blow to the Hawkeyes, who lean on Doyle heavily on both ends of the floor, but Iowa saw Sevillian step up down the stretch in her place.
Beginning Wednesday, against Northern Illinois, the Hawkeyes face five games in an 11-day span, meaning there isn’t much time to adjust to a Doyle-less attack should she miss multiple games. Even without one of their key pieces, making sure Iowa’s opening-weekend momentum doesn’t get wasted is paramount.
“We know we’re going to get Kathleen back — it’s just, at what point are we going to get her back?” Bluder said. “So that’s the silver lining, and we’ll take that. But if it’s going to happen, the problem, right now, is we play so many games in such a short amount of time. ... But it also gives other players great experience and will make us stronger in the long run.”
Racking up the hardware
Gustafson was already shouldering lofty expectations heading into the season as Iowa’s go-to option, and her opening-weekend performance displayed exactly why.
Gustafson kicked off her junior campaign with back-to-back double-doubles, racking up 16 points and 15 rebounds against Quinnipiac before going for 35 and 17 against Western Kentucky. Those emphatic showings earned Gustafson Hawkeye Challenge MVP honors, as well as Big Ten player of the week recognition.
“I know that I’m depended on a lot by my teammates and my coaches,” Gustafson said, “so knowing that, I really like to work with pressure. ... So being able to exceed people’s expectations is something that I try to work on.”
Saturday’s effort was particularly impressive. The 6-foot-3 forward poured in 18 of her 35 points between the fourth quarter and overtime play, helping Iowa climb out of an 85-75 hole with 7:07 to play. After a Doyle trey trimmed the deficit to seven, Gustafson went on a personal 8-0 run to give the Hawkeyes their first lead since early in the third.
Gustafson controlled the extra session as well, ripping off six straight Iowa points to open up some breathing room.
“She’s one of the best in the country,” Sevillian said, “So, just to be able to be one of her teammates, play alongside her... I feel like that’s an amazing thing — not just for me but, I feel like, for all of our teammates.”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.