By Jordan Zuniga
There seems to be nothing that can get in the way of the Iowa women’s basketball team this season, as it demonstrated in finishing off 2017 with an 82-72 win over No. 21 Michigan.
With the win, the Hawkeyes move to 14-1 to start the season, their best start since they went 20-1 in 1995-96.
A win against a top-25 team is impressive in its own right, but factoring in the squad’s having merely nine active players because of injuries to two starting guards adds to the impressive win.
The Hawkeyes proved in nonconference play that they could play with anyone, but they had a healthy team then; these last two games have been proof that they can win even with some open wounds.
On Dec. 18, the Hawkeyes announced that junior guard Tania Davis would miss the rest of the season because she had torn an ACL the day before against Northern Iowa. She also tore the ACL in the other knee in February (against Michigan) and missed the rest of that season.
The bad news continued right before the team’s conference-opener against Wisconsin, when Iowa announced that the other starting guard, Makenzie Meyer, would miss some time with a fracture in her left hand.
Without Meyer and Davis, Iowa is down to nine players, only three being guards, leaving a major rotation headache for head coach Lisa Bluder.
Yet watching these Hawkeyes, you might never know. Bluder said this squad was “small but mighty” — back when the Hawkeyes had all of 11 players. Being down to nine has seemed to make them smaller and mightier.
Against Michigan, the game was decided, more or less, by two second-half runs. Iowa trailed 43-42 with four and a half minutes to go in the third quarter, then ran off a 13-5 stretch to close the quarter.
With three minutes, 41 seconds left in the fourth, the Wolverines had closed within 2 points. The Hawkeyes again went on a run, 12-3, to salt the game away.
Even with a thin guard corps roaming the floor for the Hawkeyes, they still found ways to dish out assists, accumulating 19.
Iowa made up for lack of guards defensively by dominating the post; as Chase Coley (4) and Megan Gustafson (6) combined for 10 blocks, and the rest of the post players controlled the boards, out-rebounding Michigan by 8.
Unlike most other games this season, the scoring load for the Hawkeyes mainly fell on two players, post player Megan Gustafson and guard Kathleen Doyle.
“I thought Doyle led our team,” Bluder said. “She looked for her offense, but her defense, composure, and focus were good. Megan only has nine attempts on goal and has 27 points — how is that physically possible? And she also has a career high in blocks.”
Doyle had 23 points with 9 assists, and Gustafson got her trademark (14th) double-double: 27 points and 11 boards.
Iowa will continue Big Ten play Jan. 4 against Maryland in College Park at 5 p.m.