Iowa had zero three-pointers, one bench point, and 21 turnovers on Thursday night against Purdue... and won, 63-55. This was not a museum-quality game, is what we're saying. But any win will do for Iowa, which had lost four in a row and seven of their last nine before last night. They needed a win in the worst way and they got it. Style points can wait.
Iowa won because they controlled the game in the paint (they outscored Purdue down there 36-22) and because they actually finished a game strong in the fourth quarter. That has not been a common occurrence for Iowa at all this year (during their recent four-game losing streak they were outscored 94-72 in the fourth quarter -- a bit of a problem, considering they lost three of those games by a combined 12 points) , but they outscored Purdue 16-6 in the closing quarter in this game, coming back from a 2-point deficit after three quarters. And those 21 turnovers didn't matter quite as much since Purdue coughed the ball up 17 times (again: ugly game), though the Boilermakers did outscore the Hawkeyes 22-16 in points off turnovers.
As noted, Iowa's bench mustered just one point in this game (Kali Peschel went 1-2 from the free throw line) and played just 26 minutes total. All of Iowa's starters played 30+ minutes, with ironwoman Ally Disterhoft leading the way with 39 minutes. Disterhoft didn't have a particularly good game, though: 12 points on 4/8 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 7 turnovers. The heroes of the day were Iowa's post players, Chase Coley and Megan Gustafson. Gustafson led all scorers with 18 points on 7/9 shooting and also had 7 rebounds, an assist, and 4 blocks. She's been a revelation as a freshman and it should be an awful lot of fun to watch her develop over the next few seasons. Coley added 14 points on 6/12 shooting, plus 7 rebounds and a block of her own. Freshman point guard Tania Davis also had a good game, posting 12 points on 3/5 shooting to go along with 6 assists and 4 steals.
This season was always going to be a step back from the past few seasons with the departures of talents like Sam Logic, Melissa Dixon, and Bethany Doolittle, although I don't know if anyone expected the rough patch that Iowa hit in the middle of Big Ten play to be as bad as it was. But games like show the immense promise of the future -- this year may just be a transition year, but a future led by Gustafson, Davis, and Coley could be a very exciting one for Iowa. (Although outside shooting remains a need; Iowa is shooting just 31% from deep this year and has made only 159 three-pointers -- last year Melissa Dixon made 124 3s by herself.)
As for this year, Iowa finds themselves on the outside of the bubble looking in right now, per ESPN's mock bracket, which has them in the First Four Out categoryThe good news is that Iowa's through the worst of their schedule -- their remaining games are against Indiana (T-3 in the Big Ten), Penn State (11th), and Illinois (dead last). The bad news is those wins won't do much to boost Iowa's resume -- Penn State and Illinois are bad and Indiana is on the outskirts of the RPI Top 50 (currently 48). But winning 'em all would get Iowa to 19-11 overall, 9-9 in the Big Ten. That might be enough to get them back on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, although winning a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament would be helpful, too. Either way, Iowa's margin of error for making the NCAA Tournament the rest of the year is pretty much nil -- but wins like last night's are a good way to keep hope alive for a little bit longer.