Hawkeye defense smothers Wildcat offense


Lily Smith

Iowa forward Megan Gustafson and Northwestern forward Pallas Kunaiya-Akpanah attempt to take control of the ball during the Iowa/Northwestern Big Ten tournament basketball game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Thursday, March, 1, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats, 55-45. Iowa takes on No.4 Minnesota on Friday. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

It’s not often in basketball when a team scores only a single point in a quarter, but that’s just what Northwestern did in Iowa’s 55-45 win over the Wildcats in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday in Indianapolis.

“I think that might be the first time I’ve ever experienced anything like that,” Hawkeye head coach Lisa Bluder said. “That was pretty amazing, [but] thank goodness for that first quarter and that good start, because we needed all of that to finish this game.”

Thursday marked the fifth time this season that Iowa has held an opponent to fewer than 50 points, but the first time since taking down Wisconsin, 56-46, on Dec. 28.

The Hawkeyes smothered the Wildcats early — they did not make a single shot from the floor in quarter No. 1. Northwestern’s only point came on a free throw, courtesy of Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah.

Iowa managed to secure a 22-1 lead after the first quarter, thanks to its defensive heroics and a 64 percent shooting performance.

But for the remainder of the contest, the Iowa offense went dormant. The turnover bug plagued the Hawkeyes, and shots that fell early failed to make their way into the bucket.

Iowa made four of its six 3-point attempts in its dominating first quarter, but the shots from deep tailed off; the Hawkeyes hit only two more 3-pointers from then on out.

Megan Gustafson, the Hawkeyes’ stat-sheet stuffer, was hampered by foul trouble, and she wasn’t her usual self on offense. She took only eight shots, scoring 12 points and grabbing 9 rebounds.

Northwestern’s best offense came in the second quarter, when the Wildcats shot the ball at a 47 percent rate. Eight of their 17 makes came in that quarter.

Iowa relied on its defense in what turned out to be a low-scoring, scrappy affair.

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“They were able to come back in the second quarter, but I think down the stretch, we were able to finish and keep them from coming back all the way,” Gustafson said. “I’m just proud of our grit. That’s what’s required in the game of basketball.”

From the second quarter on, Iowa kept Northwestern’s offense in check. The Wildcats made 24 percent of their shots in the third quarter and 38 percent in the fourth.

Just as Gustafson said, it was a gritty affair, for both teams.

Iowa’s offense proved to be shaky, turning the ball over 18 times, but it made up for those giveaways with 15 takeaways.

Thanks to the Hawkeye defense, the Wildcats’ offense lacked rhythm. Consistent, fluid ball movement was not there; Northwestern only tallied 8 assists.

Northwestern entered the contest scoring 62.4 points per game, ranking 12th in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, Iowa’s scoring defense ranked 10th in the league, holding opponents to 68.7 points per game — the Hawkeyes held the Wildcats to nearly 20 points below their average.

“I think it’s the energy we bring on defense,” Makenzie Meyer said. “We know when we need to get a stop, we need to lock down. We’ve been doing a really good job of that.”






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