IOWA CITY — Lisa Bluder had to admit that she didn’t make it very easy on herself in her quest to register the 700th victory of her career.
She had her Iowa women’s basketball team taking on Quinnipiac, a team that won 29 games and reached the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament last season, in the opening round of the Hawkeye Challenge on Friday night.
Then again, that made it that much sweeter when her players stepped up in the fourth quarter to help their coach achieve the milestone.
Sophomore Kathleen Doyle had one of the best games of her college career and Megan Gustafson added 16 points and 15 rebounds as the Hawkeyes put together a 21-3 scoring run to bust open a tie game and roll to an 83-67 victory, making Bluder the 10th active Division I coach with 700 victories.
"We’re not very good at scheduling sometimes," Bluder said with a smile. "Maybe it wasn’t real smart to schedule this opening tournament with such good teams."
The Hawkeyes will play in the championship game of the tournament today at 4:30 p.m. against Western Kentucky, which upset No. 16 Missouri in the other first-round game. That deprived Bluder of a chance to coach against her old friend, Robin Pingeton, who played for her at St. Ambrose and later succeeded her as head coach of the Queen Bees.
Bluder was just as happy with the outcome, however, especially with the way her team closed out a deep and scrappy Quinnipiac club.
"That fourth quarter was pretty good," she said. "In the fourth quarter, we finally dug in defensively and made some free throws."
For most of the game, the two teams weren’t separated by more than a few points, and the score was tied at 62-62 with seven minutes remaining.
That’s when Iowa began getting some defensive stops. It scored seven straight points at the foul line, four of them by Doyle. Quinnipiac’s Jen Fay, who led both teams with 23 points, countered with a three-point play, but then the Hawkeyes reeled off 14 straight points.
Included was a three-point play by Gustafson during a sequence in which she grabbed three offensive rebounds.
"You could tell our energy was just through the roof at that point," said Doyle, who finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. "You could see the effect that had on them. I knew we were going to win the game at that point."
Bluder said her team’s ability to contain Fay in the second half was a big key. The Quinnipiac star had 18 points in the first half but only five after that.
When the game was over, a video was shown on the big screen featuring highlights of Bluder’s career, beginning with her six years as the head coach at St. Ambrose.
"Every game is just one game. I understand that," she said. "But any time you reach a milestone like this, it gives you time to reflect."