IOWA CITY – With 1:08 left, Iowa junior Samantha Logic drove to the hoop, scored while being fouled, and upon seeing the ball fall through the net, pumped her fist and let out a scream of celebration.
That burst of emotion after a crucial bucket last night against Minnesota – which put Iowa up 68-59 and essentially sealed the Hawkeyes’ 78-71 win – was a microcosm of a night in which Iowa exorcised its early Big Ten demons, getting its first league win.
“I thought we played with a lot of energy tonight, a lot more focus – we had less mental breakdowns in this game than we’ve had in the past couple of games,” said Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder. “I thought we were really dialed in mentally, and I thought we played with great energy.
“That’s what we have to do every night. We feed off of (plays like Logic’s).”
Logic laughed when asked about the play, and said the team thrives on plays like that in those situations.
Being able to put away an opponent and get a much-needed win has a tendency to spark those emotions.
“We’re a team that does that a lot. We get excited off of momentum plays,” Logic said. “You know getting three points there kind of puts them away more surely. And you just kind of feel that (emotion).”
The Hawkeyes (13-4, 1-2 Big Ten) came into the matchup against the Golden Gophers (11-5, 0-2) with a defense back on its heels following back-to-back losses against Indiana (86-84) on the road and at home to No. 15 Penn State (87-71).
And though Iowa gave up 32 points to Minnesota guard Rachel Banham (12-22 from the floor, 4-8 from 3-point range), Bluder was happy with the defensive effort overall – even if there are still things that need work.
“We take great pride in our balance – we like that, we like that we’re a balanced team (defensively),” Bluder said. “Rachel (Banaham), you know, she got hers. That’s going to happen.
“The rebounds are still a concern for us. (Amanda Zahui) got too many offensive rebounds. We talked about that a lot at halftime. We just really (need to) keep attacking.”
The Golden Gophers boasted the Big Ten’s best scoring defense entering the game, giving up an average of 57.6 points per game.
Iowa was able to exploit the stingy Minnesota defense in a variety of ways, most notably by getting the ball in the paint – either by passing into its bigs or slashing to the hoop. Theirra Taylor led Iowa with 20 points – a season-high for points, and two shy of her career high of 22 – and sparked that driving effort with several transition buckets.
The Hawkeyes outscored the Gophers 32-24 in the paint, and had the Minnesota backcourt in foul trouble for much of the game.
“We tried to drive hard. We tried to use the dribble-drive to get into the paint, not just using a back to the basket type of thing, but also using the dribble-drive,” Bluder said. “I thought when their centers got into foul trouble, Beth (Doolittle) did a really good job going to work in there.
“I thought she did a really nice job of attacking bigger posts in that situation.”
Doolittle took over for the Hawkeyes down the stretch, and finished with 19 points and six rebounds on 5-of-10 shooting from the field and 9-of-10 shooting from the free throw line.
At one point late in the game, Doolittle had seven straight points for the Hawkeyes. With Banham hitting a few 3-pointers late and Zahui – who had 17 points and 15 rebounds – on the bench having fouled out with a little more than five minutes left, Doolittle’s work down low proved crucial to get the win.
“They were in foul trouble, and that’s what you want to do (is attack),” Doolittle said. “I just kind of did my best to go attack them and get to the free throw line.
“You have to be smart. Tonight, my teammates got me the ball in the right spot, and I was able to kind of go one-on-one a little bit and do the right moves for them to foul me.”
Though it may not have been a perfect effort – Minnesota outrebounded Iowa 34-26 and shot 45 percent from 3-point range – the Hawkeyes will take it just the same, because at the end of the day, Bluder said, winning is always the best cure.“I guess if there’s one good thing about losing, it makes winning feel a whole lot better,” Bluder said. “We needed to get back on the winning track, and I was really happy with the way we did it tonight.”