Last week, the Iowa women’s basketball team defeated then-#14 Rutgers, coached by former Hawkeye coach Vivian Stringer, 72-66. They then avenged and earlier season loss to Purdue on Sunday by beating the Boilermakers 72-58.
This week, the #13 ranked Hawkeyes (16-4, 7-2) hit the road to take on Michigan on Thursday night and Penn State on Sunday afternoon (or Super Bowl Sunday as it is also known). On paper these are two very winnable games as each opponent is 3-6 in conference play. However, we all know that games aren’t played on paper.
Now on a five game winning streak, the win over Rutgers was a big turning point for the season. Previously Iowa had won the majority of games against lower opponents but hadn’t been able to get the victory against a higher-ranked team (prior to the Rutgers game, Iowa was ranked 17th). Behind senior Megan Gustafson and junior Kathleen Doyle, Iowa finally broke through against a ranked foe.
It was a close game throughout as the teams were tied at the end of the first quarter and Iowa held a slim two point lead at halftime. Iowa outscored Rutgers by three in the third quarter and by one in the fourth quarter to secure the six point victory. Besides Gustafson’s 32 points and Doyle’s 17 points, senior Hannah Stewart had a big block to help ensure that Rutgers didn’t fight back late in the game.
Rutgers’ coach Stringer, who racked up 269 wins in her twelve seasons at Iowa, had some very complimentary things to say about Gustafson to reporters after the game. “(Gustafson) is the best that I’ve seen,” ... “She’s truly the best center in the country, bar none. The beautiful part about Gustafson is she runs. She played 35 minutes. She did everything on both ends of the floor. We had no answer for her. None.”
For her work against Rutgers and Purdue, Gustafson tied the Big Ten record last week as she notched her 19th player of the week honor for her career. In a conference full of amazing players, this is Gustafson’s ninth time winning this season out of twelve opportunities.
Gustsafson leads the conference in numerous categories including points per game at 26.4, rebounds per game at 12.9, and field goal % of .699. Interestingly, she isn’t even in the top ten in minutes played per game so she is getting her work done in an efficient manner. On top of all this, Gustafson made her first career three pointer about ten days ago as well.
Once the season ends there will be an article strictly devoted to Gustafson’s career at Iowa and where she fits into the all-time great picture (spoiler alert, she’s going to be #1 or #1a depending if you prefer post players or guards) but for now, luckily, she has other players helping her lead Iowa to the post-season.
In conference play Gustafson, Stewart, Doyle, and senior Tania Davis are all averaging in double figures. Doyle and Davis are each handing out over five assists per game and they, along with Stewart, are threats to steal the ball at any time.
As a team, Iowa is the conference scoring leader at 80.1 points per game. Contributing to this, they are also the field goal percentage leader and free throw percentage leader. Finally, they lead the conference by a wide margin in assists-to-turnover ratio at 1.7. The second best team is at 1.4.
So if the men’s team is giving you periodic fits with their uneven play, don’t miss a chance to go watch the women play. There are only four home games remaining. While you won’t get to see any high-flying dunks by Tyler Cook, you will probably see tighter defense and more energy at Carver than you have previously experienced and if you’re worried that it’s all grind it out inside and low scoring, see the note above about the 80 points per game scoring which includes over six three-pointers made per game. This is an exciting team led by a group of experienced players that deserves some larger crowds as the season winds down and head toward a high tournament bid.
*While you will often see two rankings in other posts or on other websites, I’m a traditionalist who only uses the AP rankings.