By Jordan Zuniga
Last season, Iowa women’s basketball struggled to close out games down the stretch. In games decided by 10 or fewer points last season, the Hawkeyes finished 4-9.
Their crucial flaw of being unable to shut down games became eerily apparent late last season. In the Big Ten Tournament against Northwestern, Iowa had a 1-point lead with just under four minutes to play. Northwestern finished the game on a 10-4 run.
Late in the regular season against Indiana, Iowa had a 6-point lead with slightly more than two minutes to play in overtime, a lead the Hawkeyes chucked away, losing in double-overtime.
In both games the Hawkeyes have played this year, they’ve trailed by at least 5 points at one point in the fourth quarter. In their game on Nov. 11, they trailed by 5 with a minute and a half to go.
Hawkeyes ended up winning both games, and head coach Lisa Bluder thinks winning those kind of games can be traced back to the mentality of the team this season.
“Megan [Gustafson] said after the game that she wasn’t going to let us lose,” Bluder said. “I think that’s the kind of mentality she has, and she’s not the only one that feels that way. When you’ve got kids thinking those thoughts when they’re on the floor, you’ve got a pretty good group”
Gustafson’s will to win isn’t just something she says, it has been vividly apparent in the Hawkeyes’ first two games.
In the last two games, she has scored 51 points, and of those, she netted 26 in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Those 26 points accounts for 42 percent of the Iowa offense in the fourth quarter or later. Gustafson has clearly been the go-to player at crunch time.
“I know that I’m depended on a lot by my teammates and coaches,” Gustafson said. “I really like to work with pressure.”
It’s not just the offensive side of the ball that has upped its game in the final moments of the game. The Hawkeyes’ defense has excelled as well.
In the first three quarters, the Hawkeyes has allowed opponents to shoot a respectable 44.2 percent from the field.
That number goes down to a very impressive 33.3 percent (14-of-42) when the fourth quarter starts, part of which can be attributed to all the Hawkeyes’ 6 blocks have been swatted away in the fourth quarter or later.
Usually, the bulk of fourth-quarter contributions come from the starters, but Iowa found contributions from the bench this past weekend, especially from redshirt freshman Alexis Sevillian.
With around 15 seconds left in the Nov. 11 game, Western Kentucky had the ball with the score tied and a chance to win the game.
Instead, Sevillian, in for an injured Kathleen Doyle, made a big steal that sent the game into overtime. Then, to start overtime, she hit a 3-pointer to give the Hawkeye an early lead.
“We just have to rely on our preparation and what we do in practice to get ready for moments like that,” Sevillian said. “So coming down to those last couple seconds, we knew we needed to prepare for that.”