After a spirited run of eight straight wins to make themselves eligible for postseason play, the Iowa women's basketball team's season came to a thud with back-to-back losses, first in the Big Ten Tournament to Nebraska two weeks ago and most recently in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against an 8th-seeded Cal team. Like the Nebraska game (where Iowa blew a 3-point lead by letting Nebraska erupt for 47 second-half points on their way to 80 for the game), the defense was again the main culprit in the loss.
Cal went off for 84 points (on a pair of 42-point halves) and while they shot well (46% from the field), their main source of their offensive dominance over Iowa was their advantage on the glass: the lady Golden Bears mauled the lady Hawkeyes down low, picking up a 38-22 rebounding edge, which includes a staggering 18-3 (!) advantage in offensive boards. That advantage -- plus a huge advantage at the free throw line (Cal was 21/30 from the charity stripe, while Iowa was just 9/10) and a swarming defense that forced 18 Iowa turnovers-- was more than enough to swing the game Cal's way.
Which is a shame, because it wasted a mighty good offensive performance on Iowa's behalf. They put up 74 points on 51% shooting. It was also a very balanced attack from Iowa: five players scored in double figures, led by Kamille Wahlin with 15 points. Kelly Krei, Morgan Johnson, and Theairra Taylor all chipped in 14 points apiece. Star freshman Samantha Logic had "only" 11 points, but she also had 11 assists, adding yet another double-double to her already-impressive tally this year.
It's unfortunate that the women's season ended with back-to-back losses, but there's little doubt that this was also a team that came as close as any to maxing out its capabilities this year, especially after losing Jamie Printy, their leading scorer and best player, to an ACL injury midway through Big Ten play. They put together an impressive eight-game winning streak after that, but in hindsight that winning streak was built on fortuitous scheduling as much as it was the rest of the team stepping up to fill Printy's void (though several players did indeed take impressive strides forward, including Logic): Iowa played only one team (Purdue) that made the NCAA Tournament during that streak. They ended the season 19-12, a heady accomplishment for a team that lost five non-conference games and sat at 11-10 overall in late January.
The good news is that Iowa loses relatively little from this year's team. There are four seniors -- Kamille Wahlin, Kelly Krei, Kalli Hansen, and Megan Considine -- but only Wahlin and Krei played heavy minutes. Wahlin ended the season as Iowa's third-leading scorer (12.8 ppg, behind Printy and Johnson, though she was a team-best 37% from beyond the arc), while Krei was Iowa's sixth-best scorer (6.6 ppg) and third-best rebounder (5.9 rpg). Wahlin was also second on the team in assists (3.8 apg). But if Printy is able to fully recover from her ACL injury, Iowa should have a very solid nucleus in 2012-13 in Printy, Logic, and Johnson. Freshman guard Jamie Dixon didn't put up the spectacular numbers that Logic did, but she did score 7.0 ppg and was the second-best three-point shooter on the team (36%). And if the talented (but oft-injured) pair of Theairra Taylor (whose speed and athleticism helped keep Iowa competitive against Cal) and Virginia Johnson can get/stay healthy, Iowa could have a very strong team next year, possibly even one capable of contending for a Big Ten title.
As always with the women, though, the caveat there is "if they can stay healthy." They've had miserable luck at avoiding season-ending injuries during Lisa Bluder's tenure; maybe we're finally due for a run of good fortune on that front. (Then again, it's not off to a good start when half of our incoming recruiting class had their senior seasons cut short because of ACL injuries. Good god.)