IOWA CITY — First it was Tania Davis, the Iowa women’s basketball team’s point guard, who went down with a season-ending injury. Then, this week — in separate incidents — the Hawkeyes lost forwards Bre Cera and Christina Buttenham to concussions.
Iowa figured out whatever it was Lisa Bluder’s bunch needed to figure out on short notice without two more rotation players Thursday night against Northwestern — as evidenced by a dominating 78-59 victory.
“I thought we played really well last week without Tania, and then this happens with Christina and Bre. It’s just another wrench thrown in there,” Bluder said. “I’m telling you, my players, every time they handle every situation. They’re staying positive, they’re staying confident. They can handle it.”
Bluder said after Thursday’s win Cera and Buttenham are “a day-to-day thing. With concussions, you just never know,” and Davis is out for the rest of the season. With all that in mind, it was a victory of high importance for more than one reason.
Yes, it sets up the final three regular-season games — and NCAA Tournament possibilities — a little nicer, but it also gave the Hawkeyes’ young players a chance to show themselves they can deal with the adversity of losing important parts of their team and still keep ticking.
The value in that is far more mental than it is tangible, but Iowa (16-10, 7-6 Big Ten) puts a lot into confidence and what it can do for the team.
“I think it makes a huge difference, especially losing some players,” Megan Gustafson said. “It gives our younger players experience and confidence coming into it. I really think having this win tonight helps our confidence, especially with our players who are in right now.”
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Gustafson once again was Iowa’s leading scorer, finishing the game with 17 points and eight rebounds, despite playing just 25 minutes thanks to foul trouble late in the first half and early in the second.
Ally Disterhoft added 14 points, Makenzie Meyer had 10, Chase Coley had nine points and 11 rebounds, Kathleen Doyle and Alexa Kastanek both added eight and Hannah Stewart finished with seven points and five rebounds.
That balanced scoring effort came in the way of — at first — answering a pair of runs Northwestern (17-9, 6-7) mounted at Iowa, but then it blew the game open in the third quarter.
Bluder made special mention of Coley and Stewart in her comments to media after the game. Coley, who said “I had a lot of fun tonight,” through a wide smile, was someone Bluder said the coaching staff had given grief about her rebounding. She answered that call in a big way against the Wildcats. And Stewart, who Bluder said has been patient playing behind Gustafson, made her minutes count.
“We’ve kind of been on (Coley) all year about that rebounding, and she was our leading rebounder, and our leading offensive rebounder, so that was nice to see,” Bluder said. “Hannah Stewart is a really good basketball player. It’s kind of unfortunate for her, because she’s playing behind a great basketball player.
“She knows that she’s going to get in for her eight to 10 minutes, and today she really made great use of them.”
The win moved Iowa to a tie for sixth in the Big Ten with Michigan State and Purdue, the latter of which the Hawkeyes have next — on Sunday at 11 a.m.
Bluder said in her news conference she’d give herself a whole hour after Thursday’s game before starting the scout for Sunday. The final three games are kind of important, after all.
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“We go on the road two games in a row now, so that (win) was really important,” Bluder said. “Playing at Purdue is a tough place to play. We did win there a couple years ago.
“They draw well. I don’t know a whole lot else about them. I’ll start on them in about an hour, and so we’ll find out more then.”
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