Iowa returned home to Iowa City for Monday night's Big Ten home opener -- but there was definitely some added juice to the game with Rutgers, thanks to the presence of C. Vivian Stringer. Stringer, a legendary and beloved former Iowa coach, is now the coach at Rutgers, made her first appearance at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in more than a decade and Iowa fans responded by giving her a standing ovation. Adding Rutgers to the Big Ten has been disappointing for a host of reasons, but the fact that it provided us with a moment like that last night proves that the move hasn't been a complete bust. That moment was probably the prettiest thing about last night's game, though, because the basketball that ensued was physical, turnover-filled, and (relatively) low-scoring. It was, in short, an ugly game. But sometimes you have to win the ugly ones, too, and Iowa did that, edging past Rutgers, 69-65.
Rutgers had the better of Iowa in the first half, outscoring the Hawkeyes 19-18 in the first quarter and 18-15 in the second quarter for a 37-33 halftime lead. One gigantic problem for Iowa in that half? Turnovers. Iowa coughed the ball up a whopping 16 times. For the game, Rutgers outscored Iowa 23-17 in points off turnovers and had an 8-0 edge in fast break points, with many of those fast breaks coming off Iowa giveaways. Iowa settled down in the second half and only turned the ball over five times, but 21 turnovers for a game is way too many and it comes on the heels of a 24-turnover performance against Nebraska last week. Iowa prevailed in that game, too, but coughing the ball up that much is a recipe for failure more often than not. Iowa needs to take better care of the ball.
Iowa also got beat by Rutgers on the offensive glass -- Rutgers had 14 offensive boards versus 8 for Iowa, although Iowa was able to limit the damage of those Rugers second chance opportunities. Iowa actually outscored Rutgers 16-11 in second chance points. So how did Iowa prevail in this game? Sweet shooting. Iowa went 24/44 (54.5%) from the floor on Monday night, including 6/14 (42.9%) from three-point range. They were really red hot in the first half: 14/22 (63.6%) from the floor, 3/6 (50%) on three-pointers. About the only place Iowa's shooting wasn't red hot was the free throw line: Iowa made just 15/23 attempts (65.2%) from the line, which is generally not good enough. Like the turnover issue, that's the sort of thing that could cost Iowa wins if it recurs in other games.
Iowa was led by Alexa Kastanek, who had a Melissa Dixon-like performance: 20 points on 5/11 shooting, including 5/10 from three-point range. Kastanek was really feeling it from deep last night. She was also an effective passer (3 assists) and active in the Rutgers passing lanes (3 steals). Ally Disterhoft contributed her usual strong all around game: 15 points (on 7/11 shooting), 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks. Chase Coley and Whitney Jennings also hit double figures for Iowa, scoring 10 points apiece, while snaring 4 rebounds each as well. Jennings also chipped in 4 assists and had one of her better games in a while. Megan Gustafson brought some effective size off the bench --6 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks -- while Tania Davis came off the bench but played starter's minutes (28 minutes) and chipped in 6 points (all from the free throw line, where she was 6/6; she might need to be Iowa's designated late game ball handler/foul shooter), 4 rebounds, and an assist.
Overall, it wasn't the cleanest performance from the Hawkeyes, but they came away with a win in an emotionally-charged game (for the fans and coaches, if not the players -- most of whom weren't even alive when Stringer last coached at Iowa) and moved to 2-0 in the Big Ten. There are only three unbeaten teams remaining in the Big Ten -- Iowa, Ohio State, and Purdue.
Up next for the Hawkeyes is a road trip to Ann Arbor to face Michigan on Thursday night (6 PM CT, BTN Plus). Michigan is probably a bit better than their unassuming 8-5 record (0-2 in Big Ten play) would suggest. Three of their five losses have been on the road and many of the losses have been fairly close -- they dropped their Big Ten opener 65-63 at home against a good Purdue team. They're absolutely capable of tripping up the Hawkeyes, especially if Iowa has issues with turnovers again. Hopefully Iowa is able to run their record to 3-0, though, setting up a top of the standings clash with Maryland on Sunday (2 PM CT, ESPN2).