A week ago, Iowa was one of the last teams left out of the women's NCAA Tournament and they were getting ready to host a WNIT game against Ball State and we were hoping that this Hawkeye team could put together a run in that event to build some confidence and postseason experience for next year. Well, about that...
Thank you for all of your support this season Hawkeye fans!— Iowa Women's BBall (@IowaWBB) March 18, 2016
FINAL | Ball State 77, #Hawkeyes 72
A bad first half -- and an especially lousy second quarter -- did Iowa in against the Cardinals; they trailed 18-16 after the first quarter and 40-28 at halftime and were unable to make up that 12-point gap in the second half. Ball State forced 12 Iowa turnovers and turned those into 15 points, while Iowa forced 10 Ball State giveaways but could only convert them into 8 points. Ball State's bench also outscored Iowa, 12-6. Iowa did have a big advantage in second chance points (17-7) and outscored Ball State from deep (7/18 versus 5/12), but that wasn't enough to get the win.
MAC Player of the Year Nathalie Fontaine lived up to her billing in this one, leading Ball State with 24 points (albeit on not-so-efficient 10/24 shooting) and grabbign 11 rebounds to post a double-double. Megan Gustafson led Iowa with a double-double of her own, 22 points (on 9/15 shooting) and 12 rebounds, to go with two assists and three blocks. Ally Disterhoft had 19 points (on 5/10 shooting) to go with seven rebounds and six assists. Whitney Jennings and Tania Davis combined for 25 points (on 8/22 shooting) and four assists (against three turnovers).
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Wednesday, the Gone Baby Gone siren hit the team with two departures confirmed: sophomore guard Whitney Jennings and freshman forward Tagyn Larson would both be transferring away from Iowa to be at programs closer to home (Jennings is from Indiana, Larson is from South Dakota).
Iowa announces Whitney Jennings and Tagyn Larson are leaving the women's basketball program. Jennings started 62 games the past 2 seasons.— Ryan Murken (@rmmurken) March 23, 2016
Of the two, Jennings' departure was the bigger surprise by far -- she had started 62 games over the last two seasons (including 31 of 33 games this year) and there was little reason to suspect that would be changing next year. Jennings played the second-most minutes for Iowa this year (32.6 mpg, behind Ally Disterhoft's 36.6 mpg) and was fourth on the team in scoring (9.6 ppg), second on the team in assists (3.0 apg), and first in steals (1.3 spg). But she struggled with her shot, making just 34.5% of her field goals and was worse from deep (30.1%), which was problematic because she attempted the second-most attempts on the team (133, behind Alexa Kastanek's 156 attempts). She was also second on the team in turnovers (2.4 per game).
Midway through the season, Lisa Bluder went to a backcourt featuring Jennings and freshman Tania Davis (a 5* PG recruit) and they struggled to mesh offensively. They also posed problems for Iowa defensively since both are very short (Davis is listed at 5-4, Jennings is listed at 5-5). That backcourt didn't seem like a long-term fit for Iowa, but, well, now that won't be an issue. Still, losing Jennings' experience will hurt.
Jennings' departure could be filled by guard Alexa Kastanek, who will be a senior next year. Kastanek, who did start 20 games for Iowa this season, was expected to help Iowa replace Melissa Dixon as Iowa's long-range shooting specialist, but she had some struggles from behind the arc this year, ultimately finishing 56/156 (35.9%) from deep. Iowa needs her to get that number to 40% or higher for next year. Kastanek is listed at 5-10, so she would offer much more size and a change of pace from the Lilliputian backcourt that Iowa rolled out this year. Iowa could also replace Jennings with an incoming freshman -- Iowa's incoming recruiting class includes a pair of 4* players, including in-state (Mason City) PG Makenzie Meyer.
Larson was a member of Iowa's celebrated 2015 recruiting class, along with Davis, Megan Gustafson (4* F), and Hannah Stewart (4* F). Unlike Davis and Gustafson, who quickly became fixtures in Iowa's lineup and indispensable, Larson struggled to make it on the court as a freshman. She saw action in just five games (for ten minutes total) and scored no points. While Larson didn't make much of an impact in 2015-16, you never know what she might have done in the future; when she signed with Iowa, Bluder described her as "a tall wing player that can shoot 3's or beat you off the bounce." She didn't do that in her brief time in Iowa City, but if she could have developed into that player, she would have been a very useful player for the Iowa program.
The departures of Jennings and Larson obviously open up two additional scholarships. Iowa signed four players last year and an additional four this year and most of the best prospects in this year's class have already been snapped up. It may not make sense to give out scholarships to two additional players right now. (Indeed, Hawk Central noted that Bluder indicated that she is not currently planning to add more recruits for next season.)
Looking ahead to next year, the team could look something like this:
G: Tania Davis (SO)
G: Alexa Kastanek (SR)
F: Ally Disterhoft (SR)
F: Chase Coley (JR)
F: Megan Gustafson (SO)
G: Makenzie Meyer (FR)
G: Christina Buttenham (JR)
F: Amanda Ollinger (FR)
F: Carly Mohns (JR)
F: Hannah Stewart (SO)