What we learned from Iowa's 80-59 win over Samford

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Backed by a hot-shooting first quarter, Iowa raced out to an early double-digit lead and led wire-to-wire, upending Samford 80-59 on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The Hawkeyes hit their first six shots of the game and owned a 24-13 advantage after one — a lead that ballooned to as many as 13 in the first half. The Bulldogs hung somewhat close into the third, but a 17-0 Iowa run that spilled into the final period put the game away.

Iowa's Hannah Stewart celebrates a basket and a foul during the Hawkeyes' game against Northern Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.

“I think we shifted up our defense at that point,” Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said. “We did a much better job in our defenses, and in the fourth quarter, I thought our defense was really good. We held them to four field goals in the fourth quarter, so I think (the run) was really more of a defensive thing.

Walking double-double Megan Gustafson delivered just that, pouring in a game-high 18 points with 11 rebounds. Hannah Stewart chimed in with 17 points, and Kathleen Doyle added 14.

Here’s what we learned:

Celebrating the small victories

It’s no secret that Wednesday’s loss to No. 11 Florida State certainly stung, given that Iowa had a legitimate chance at a monumental upset with a 12-point fourth quarter lead. But the Seminoles, specifically Shakayla Thomas, hit the gas late and escaped Iowa City with a narrow 94-93 win, leaving the Hawkeyes just short of a quality, resume-building victory that could’ve loomed large, come March.

But the season marches on, and give Bluder’s squad credit for quickly flipping the page and showing little hangover in Sunday’s rout. Let’s be clear: Iowa simply did what it was supposed to against the Bulldogs, which entered with four double-digit defeats — including a 25-point loss to those same Seminoles.

But with a less-than-stellar opponent sandwiched between a tough loss and a rivalry matchup in Ames on Wednesday, it was imperative the Hawkeyes not lose focus. And they didn’t.

“We talk about (how) we need to celebrate the small victories as well as the big victories,” Doyle said. “So if we accumulate enough of those small wins, like one of these today at home — taking care of business against a team that we know is a great team but that we know we should be beating — it really helps us to gain confidence to get those big wins later on in the season.”

'I just take what's there'

Iowa’s usual offensive contributors showed up in abundance Sunday, but Stewart gave the Hawkeyes an unexpected lift, zooming past her previous career-high of 13 points set earlier this season against Morgan State.

The junior forward entered with 10 combined points over Iowa’ last three games, including just two against Florida State on 1-for-3 shooting, but Stewart delivered eight points in the first half alone. She had nine points in nine minutes after the break as well.

“I really wasn’t happy with my Florida State offensive-side performance, but I tried to not let that get to my head,” Stewart said. “And I think as my role, with us having four or five really good post players, I don’t really go into the game thinking, ‘OK, I need to get points. I need to score’ — because obviously Megan and Chase (Coley) do a really good job of that.

“So coach really keeps me grounded, and I just take what’s there and don’t really try to force things. That’s what I kind of tried to do (Sunday), and they just happened to be there.”

Dropping dimes

Sharing the basketball is a top priority on just about every basketball team at any level, but Iowa’s start has taken that adage to even loftier heights. Sunday’s blowout win saw the Hawkeyes rack up another 25 assists, marking the eighth consecutive game in which Iowa has eclipsed 20 dimes.

“Everyone on our team is super unselfish,” Doyle said. “The only thing we care about is winning, and that’s a super fun way to play basketball. If everything’s clicking, then you’re passing the ball, and you know you’re going to get it back. There’s no worrying about who’s scoring what — it’s just if we’re winning and everyone’s having a blast together.

“It’s hard to believe how unselfish we are at times. Sometimes we pass too much — and it’s, like, ‘Go up with it’ — but it’s just a super fun way to play like that.”

Everyone had a hand in things Sunday. Tania Davis led the way with seven assists, but Doyle also racked up six and Makenzie Meyer five. Iowa entered the Samford contest averaging 24.4 assists per game, which ranked second in the country only behind Baylor.

An impressive figure that’s only going up.

“This is the first team I’ve really played on where none of the players truly, honestly care about their own stat line,” Stewart said. “… It’s so fun to have people who want to win as a team and don’t really care about everything else.”

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 msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.