Offensive Evolution Has Changed Hawkeyes' Look

Iowa's Kathleen Doyle drives to the basket in last Saturday's game against Penn State. (Darren Miller/hawkeyesports.com)

John Bohnenkamp

The moment that the Iowa women’s basketball team began developing its identity for this season occurred far away over the summer, when the Hawkeyes were on their trip to Spain.

The basketball was, well, not good.

“Yeah,” guard Makenzie Meyer said, “it was pretty messy.”

This was a different team than the one that just a few months earlier had reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. The Hawkeyes had some of the pieces back from that team, but center Megan Gustafson, the national player of the year and consensus All-American, was gone.

There were new players to work into the rotation. And there was a new offense — instead of being a two-post offense with Gustafson and forward Hannah Stewart, this was going to be more guard-oriented.

The 10 practices before the Hawkeyes went on their trip didn’t clear out the bugs of the new offense.

“Spain was pretty rough,” Meyer said. “Yeah, we were definitely running into each other. We weren’t taking good shots.”

“It wasn’t very pretty basketball,” coach Lisa Bluder said. “Now, we wouldn’t expect that after only 10 practices, after putting in a new offense and getting so many new people. You expect those kinds of growing pains.”

She smiled.

“‘Pains’ would be capitalized,” Bluder said.

That was a long time ago. The Hawkeyes have grown into their new offense, and it’s a big reason why they are 22-5 overall and 13-3 in the Big Ten heading into the final week of the regular season.

The points production is about the same — this year’s team averages 79.8 points per game, 10th best among NCAA Division I teams, compared to 78.4 last season, which ranked 14th.

It’s how the Hawkeyes are scoring that is different. They’re still strong in the post — sophomore Monika Czinano averages 15.7 points and leads the nation in field-goal percentage at 70.2 percent.

But Iowa is more guard-oriented, an attacking style that has more flow. The Hawkeyes have 211 three-pointers, 10 more than all of last season, and they’ve shot 533 free throws, on pace to pass last season’s total of 582.

“It’s a completely different offense,” said guard Kathleen Doyle, who averages a career-high 18.4 points per game, 20.4 in Big Ten play. “There’s no similarities in our offense from this year to last year. It’s definitely different, but it’s fun.

“We were just focused on the inside presence last year, between Megan and Hannah. We had a dynamic duo we wanted to take advantage of. It was more about feeding the post. This year is more about attacking the basket, and playing off each other as guards.”

The Hawkeyes have scored 100 or more points in four games this season. They defeated Penn State, 100-57, last Saturday, six days after scoring 97 in a win over Wisconsin.

Asked when the turning point came for this team, Bluder laughed.

“I can tell you, it wasn’t in Spain,” she said. “That wasn’t very pretty basketball. But I think it opened our eyes. Like, ooh, we have to get better. We didn’t have to wait for the first game of the year. We saw it then.”

There were still some issues in nonconference play. The Hawkeyes scored above 85 points in the first two games, then only scored above 80 once the rest of the nonconference schedule.

“It definitely took a while,” Meyer said. “After we got through the nonconference season, we knew it was clicking.”

Iowa has shot 49.7 percent in conference play, compared to 47.5 percent in nonconference play. They have scored 75 points or more in 11 Big Ten games.

The constant drives and motion leads to more fouls, and more physical play for the guards.

They don’t seem to mind.

“It’s fun, as a guard, for all of us to be attacking the basket,” Doyle said. “This offense is definitely taxing. But it’s a fun style of play. It’s what you get when you attack the paint in the Big Ten. You know what’s coming.”

Back in Spain, no one seemed to have an idea on what was coming for the Hawkeyes.

But when it comes to this offense, summer seems like a long time ago.

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