By Jordan Zuniga
Pure joy could be found on every Hawkeye face after their thrilling 71-68 overtime victory over Michigan State. Not only was the win refreshing start to February after a rough January, it also was a return of solid defense play.
“We’re talking about turning the calendar away from January and into February, and it started pretty well,” coach Lisa Bluder said.
The last eight games, and every January game, the Hawkeyes have allowed at least 70 points after doing it just three times in their first 14 games.
On Thursday, the Hawkeyes were able to hold the Spartans to under 70, and Michigan State had an extra five minutes to reach the mark. Although the result favored the Hawkeyes, there was little separation between these two teams; the game featured eight lead changes and 13 ties.
Naturally, regulation came down to the final minute, with the Hawkeyes down, 65-63.
In the waning seconds of regulation, Megan Gustafson grabbed a Kathleen Doyle miss and was fouled. With 8 seconds left, Gustafson hit pair of free throws.
For Gustafson, those pressure free throws are no big deal, because it’s the situation she envisions herself in during practice.
“In my mind, when I’m practicing free throws on my own, I’m visualizing these situations with a big crowd and down 2 [points],” Gustafson said. “To be able to visualize those in practice correlates into the game when it actually happens.”
A Doyle block on the defensive end ensured an extra period, and the stellar play to close out the fourth quarter gave the Hawkeyes a lot of confidence heading into overtime.
“We felt we had the momentum going into overtime,” Bluder said. “I was thrilled for us to force overtime, as long as our defense kept holding.”
But the closing minutes of overtime found Iowa down again with fewer than 30 seconds to play, when another veteran proved clutch. This time, senior Chase Coley shone, hitting a jumper with 6.4 seconds left to give the Hawkeyes a 69-68 advantage.
“Chase loves that short corner shot, and she is very good at it,” Bluder said. “I’m happy for Chase; she gets 10 rebounds and has 4 assists, but she is 2-for-3 from the field and boy, that last one was huge.”
After Coley’s bucket, Michigan State had a chance to win the game, but Gustafson stole the chance and the inbound pass, then sank two free throws to seal the victory.
It is true that most nights are big nights for Gustafson, but on Thursday, she had a big night even by her lofty standards, scoring 36 points and grabbing 17 boards.
Iowa’s other major contributor was Doyle. The sophomore guard posted 11 points to go along with 11 assists and 4 rebounds.
The only other Hawkeye to score more than 5 points was Hannah Stewart who chucked in 7 with 5 boards and 2 assists comng off the bench.
Bluder and Company will try to turn this win into a streak Feb. 4 against Minnesota, a team that beat them, 77-72, on Jan. 21.
However, this matchup will take place in the Hawkeye’s house, Carver-Hawkeye, with tip-off set for 2 p.m.