Iowa's Makenzie Meyer talks about the Hawkeyes' 79-66 win over Drake. Dargan Southard/Press-Citizen
IOWA CITY, Ia. — In their first game without Tania Davis, the No. 25 Hawkeyes bolted out to a sizable first-half lead and trailed just once en route to Thursday’s 79-66 win over Drake at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The win gives Iowa its first in-state sweep since the 2014-15 season.
"It's important for recruiting, important for state pride," Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said. "It's important for Hawk fans to really get behind your team, and this is another reason why they should get behind this team because we are the best team in the state this year."
The Hawkeyes kept Drake’s potent offense in check early, holding the Bulldogs to just 26 percent (10-for-38) shooting in the opening half as Iowa constructed a double-digit lead. The Hawkeyes ended the second quarter on a 16-4 run and surged into the locker room with a 46-27 intermission lead. Not much changed in the second half.
Megan Gustafson churned out another easy double-double (27 points, 12 rebounds) and got plenty of scoring help form Makenzie Meyer and Alexis Sevillian. Becca Hittner did all she could to keep Drake afloat, pouring in 27 on 11-for-24 shooting.
Opposite outings from deep
Drake’s high-scoring reputation the last few seasons under Jennie Baranczyk has been well-established, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the Bulldogs keep chucking from deep after a rough start. But the 3-point game never materialized Thursday as Drake opened 1-for-12 and finished 8-for-39.
"It's not easy (when 3-pointers aren't falling), I can promise you that," Baranczyk said. "It was a physical game, so we did try to go inside. I think we did a nice job inside, and I thought we did a much better job of getting the ball in the paint to get out to our shooters in the second half than the first.
Still didn't really go in the hole. But they're long — they're tall. That's something that's a big strength of theirs."
The Bulldogs entered averaging a little more than nine treys per contest, and their inability to find a rhythm offensively essentially erased any shot of a late comeback. Iowa, meanwhile, toppled Drake at its own game, burying a bevy of first-half long balls en route to a 11-for-22 showing. The 11 3-pointers tied a season high.
Iowa guard play looking sharp
Leading the downtown onslaught was Meyer, who tied a career-high with 21 points on five 3-pointers. The Mason City sophomore entered with just seven treys over the last six games, but Meyer aggressively let it fly with much success.
Although it’s Sevillian who directly took Davis’ spot in the starting lineup, it’ll be a collaborative effort among all of Iowa’s guards to replace her minutes, grittiness and leadership.
"When Tania texted us that she had torn her ACL," Meyer said, "she was very positive and said, 'I don't want this to be about me. I want this to be about you guys.'"
Sevillian more than pulled her weight as well in her first game cemented in the starting lineup. The redshirt freshman guard poured in 12 points and buried four treys herself, draining two early ones to get in a groove.
A prominent role is nothing new for Sevillian, who entered the in-state matchup as Iowa’s second-leading scorer and top 3-point shooter despite coming off the bench. It was a luxury Bluder had to surrender once Davis went down, but Sevillian showed Thursday that she’s more than capable of shouldering a starting workload.
"Lexi is a good player — Makenzie, you've seen it from her all year," Bluder said, "so it's not surprising."
Hawkeyes head into the break happy
The win caps an impressive romp through a tough nonconference schedule, which saw Iowa upend six 2017 NCAA Tournament teams, nearly knock off a ranked squad in Florida State, and position itself nicely heading into the Big Ten Conference slate.
The Hawkeyes have a week off until conference play commences Dec. 28 at Wisconsin, giving everyone a breather before the real grind begins. But after graduating key piece Ally Disterhoft and losing three players this offseason that dropped the team down to 11 players — 10 now, with Davis’ season-ending injury — Iowa has certainly turned plenty of heads in the first six weeks.
"We get about four days off at home with our families," Gustafson said, but being able to keep in shape, being able to get some extra shots up and staying in condition (is key on the upcoming break)."
Drake looking to bounce back in Valley play
It’s been a bumpier ride through the nonconference for Drake, which managed its way through a tough early schedule last season but hasn’t uncovered the same success in 2017.
The Bulldogs have been on the wrong end of some close defeats — a seven-point loss to South Dakota State and overtime stumbles against Nebraska and Creighton — but the other four have all come by at least double digits. Replacing vital cogs Caitlin Ingle and Lizzy Wendell hasn't come without some turbulence.
Drake coach Jennie Baranczyk and Becca Hittner talk about the Bulldogs' 79-66 loss to Iowa and flip forward to conference play. Dargan Southard/Press-Citizen
The Missouri Valley Conference, though, does appear a bit down from last season, and only a handful of squads were able to get through nonconference play above .500. There’s still plenty of time for Drake to get it going, even if things haven't flowed quite as smoothly as last season.
"I think one of the main areas we've grown is being able to fight back when we've been down a little bit in the first half," Hittner said. "Just coming back and (saying), 'We're not done yet.' I think we can carry that over into conference."
Hall of Fame status
In a pregame ceremony, Hawkeyes assiociate head coach and former Drake standout Jan Jensen was recognized for her induction into the Des Moines Register Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Iowa played a tribute video for Jensen during a first-half timeout, which included congratulatory praise from Baranczyk and numerous Iowa players.
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.