CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Winning for the third time in seven days, the pieces are falling into place for the Iowa women’s basketball team.
The 22nd-ranked Hawkeyes routed Illinois 94-75 on Sunday, using a blend of 62-percent shooting, a 38-21 edge on the boards, a 50-percent touch from 3-point range and a selfless collection of 24 assists on 39 field goals to earn the road win.
“It was the kind of game where if you’re an opposing coach watching on tape, you’re pulling your hair out because we’re doing a lot of things well right now,’’ Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said during her Learfield Sports postgame radio interview.
“This has been a big week for us, winning three games in seven days, two on the road and the start of (spring semester) classes. I’m proud of the way we handled it.’’
Bluder particularly liked the way the Hawkeyes finished off the Fighting Illini in a game that started as a shootout.
“In all three of our games this week, we’ve played well in the third and fourth quarters,’’ Bluder said. “I like the way we’re closing out games.’’
Iowa needed to after leading by just 10 points despite scoring 31 in the first quarter.
The Hawkeyes maintained that margin at the break as well, scorching the nets at a 71.2-percent clip through two quarters on its way to a 55-45 lead at the State Farm Center.
Led by an 8-for-8 start from the field by Megan Gustafson, the Hawkeyes knocked down 23 of the 32 shots they took during a half which saw Iowa riddle the Fighting Illini both inside and out.
Tania Davis, Kathleen Doyle and Makenzie Meyer each dropped in a pair of 3-point baskets during a half which saw Iowa combine for an 8-of-14 start from behind the arc.
By that point, Gustafson had already hit the first 3-point basket of her collegiate career, a buzzer-beating effort that was part of a 27-point, 12-rebound performance which led a group of four Hawkeyes in double figures.
”We’re on a roll right now, playing good basketball,’’ Gustafson said. “Our offense is on fire and in the second half, we buckled down on defense.’’
The Fighting Illini pulled within 61-56 on a Brandi Beasley jumper with 6:18 remaining in the third quarter, but a 3-pointer by Davis fueled a run of seven unanswered points that left the Hawkeyes in control.
Jumpers by Hannah Stewart and Gustafson allowed Iowa to regain a 68-56 advantage with 4:48 left in the quarter and Illinois came no closer than eight points the rest of the game.
In addition to Gustafson collecting her 17th double-double of the season, Davis finished with 19 points, Doyle added 17 and Stewart had 13 for the Hawkeyes (14-4, 5-2 Big Ten).
Beasley finished with a team-leading 21 points and Alex Wittinger scored 14 of her 20 in the first half for the Fighting Illini (9-9, 1-6).
Bluder pointed to the way Iowa defended Wittinger in the second half as an example of the focus she has seen from her team in making second-half adjustments during wins in the past week.
“It’s been a good week for us to build on,’’ said Bluder, whose team now sits two games behind Big Ten-leading Rutgers in the conference standings.
The teams meet for the only time during the regular season on Wednesday when the Scarlet Knights (15-3, 7-0) visit Carver-Hawkeye Arena at 7 p.m.