Tanya Warren talks about UNI's offensive struggles in the Panthers' loss to Iowa Sunday. Dargan Southard/HawkCentral
CEDAR FALLS, Ia. — Playing their first game since cracking both polls this week, the No. 25 Hawkeyes took firm control in the second half Sunday en route to a 71-47 win over Northern Iowa at the McLeod Center.
Owning a 28-24 halftime advantage, Iowa (11-1) strengthened its grip with a 16-4 third-quarter run that buried the Panthers in too deep of a hole. Despite losing point guard Tania Davis in the first half to a knee injury, Lisa Bluder’s squad once again leaned on the forcefulness of Megan Gustafson, who threw up another double-double (26 points, 10 rebounds) with relative ease.
“We all lost our composure when Tania went down,” Bluder said. “I think that was stressful for all of us, and we regrouped at halftime and came out and played a lot better basketball game and shot the ball a lot better.”
UNI (3-7) put up little resistance against Gustafson, and once the Panthers’ 3-point shooting disappeared in the second half, UNI simply couldn’t produce the necessary firepower to stay within reach. Kennedy Kirkpatrick and Megan Maahs led the Panthers with 12 points apiece.
Here’s what we learned:
Down, but for how long?
The price of Sunday's win remains to be determined, but seeing Davis down in a heap under the basket and later with an enormous ice pack on her left knee had to make Iowa fans cringe. The junior point guard just returned from a torn ACL in her right knee suffered in February, and any sort of absence would be a tough blow again.
Iowa coach Lisa Bbulder updates the status of injured player Tania Davis. Dargan Southard/HawkCentral
Bluder, who sprinted down to the other end of the court once Davis went down, did offer a bit of positivity in her postgame update, although the injury’s severity likely won’t be known right away.
“We don’t think it’s anything serious,” Bluder said, “but we’ll re-evaluate when we get to Iowa City.
“We all had some pretty bad visions going through our minds when that happened, and it really got to us. But again, halftime was really good for us.”
Davis, who exited early in the second quarter after tumbling to the ground on an attempted layup, did take the ice pack off while sitting on the bench in the second half and appeared to be in good spirits. Iowa does have some point guard depth to lean on should it need to, and it showed Sunday as the Hawkeyes took control after the break even without Davis.
Alexis Sevillian slid in nicely, delivering 11 points on three shots in 29 minutes. It was the redshirt freshman who stepped in for Kathleen Doyle last month when an ankle injury sidelined her for two games and kept her out of the starting lineup for two more.
Preparation for sudden change helped ease the shock.
“Our coaches do a great job of preparing us for situations like that, just coming together,” Sevillian said. “Like (Bluder) said, we all were kind of wrecked when Tania went down, but we came together as a team and came out with a win.”
Her dominance is broken record at this point, but Gustafson’s leadership and consistency was all the more imperative Sunday given the Davis injury. The 6-foot-3 all-American candidate had 12 points in the first half and was a matchup issue from the opening tip, relentlessly exploiting the Panthers’ frontcourt defense en route to a strong 11-for-15 shooting effort.
Iowa's Megan Gustafson talks about her big day Sunday against UNI. Dargan Southard/HawkCentral
"(Gustafson) is an all-American in my book," UNI coach Tanya Warren said. “She’s extremely efficient and can score in a variety of ways, and she goes after the offensive rebound better than any kid I’ve seen in my career as a coach — and this is my 23rd year. That young lady is an all-American.”
Gustafson was a primary catalyst in Iowa’s third-quarter surge that essentially put the game away, as well as a monumental reason why the Hawkeyes controlled the boards, 42-33. UNI tried a variety of options defensively, but little materialized down low.
Gustafson now has 11 double doubles in 12 games, which is just a bit absurd.
“It was being able to stay positive through everything, not really let (Maahs) get in my head,” Gustafson said. “There was a lot of doubling too, so it wasn’t just her — they had a lot of help coming inside — so I just think at the end of the day, just being able to be strong in there (was crucial).”
Panthers stay cold
UNI hung somewhat close in the first half thanks to a 6-for-15 showing from beyond the arc, including a nice flurry right before intermission, but the downtown reliability disappeared in the second half.
The Panthers sputtered to 2-for-15 from deep in the final 20 minutes. Nobody could get anything to fall as the Hawkeyes held UNI to its third-lowest point total of the season.
“We’re getting open shots, and we’ve gotten great shots in all seven losses,” Warren said. “We’ve defended well enough, and it becomes a confidence thing. But we’re executing and getting open shots — getting the shots that we want — it’s just not falling. So we’ve got to stay true to the process and hope that we can get through it.”
Warren again kept freshmen Karli Rucker and Nicole Kroeger in the starting lineup, with upperclassmen Kennedy Kirkpatrick and Mikaela Morgan coming off the bench.
The UNI coach has done some shuffling in recent games as the Panthers try to break out of their funk. But other than a win over Division II Wisconsin-Parkside, not much positivity has materialized in the last month. UNI has now dropped six of eight since beating Iowa State.
“You have to trust the process,” Maahs said. “It’s winter break right now, so we’re definitely going to get into the gym a lot more and focus on our basketball, what we need to do to get better and just believing in each other.”
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.