Commentary: No lead is safe


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“No lead is safe” may be an often-mocked aphorism.

But the Iowa women’s basketball team nearly fell victim to the shopworn phrase on Sunday. The Hawks ultimately earned a 77-67 victory against Illinois in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The 10-point margin of victory was too close for Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder, though, after her squad held a 30-point lead with 19:43 remaining in the game.

By the 3:30 mark in the second half, the Fighting Illini had trimmed Iowa’s advantage to four points.

“It’s one more experience to learn from, and I think they understand now,” Bluder said. “It doesn’t matter what the scoreboard is — play hard on every possession.”

Iowa may have felt unbeatable heading into halftime — and rightfully so.

The Hawkeyes lit up the Illini defense in the first half, connecting on 9-of-16 3-point attempts. They also held the Illinois offense in check, allowing just 9-of-25 shooting from the floor.

Toss in 13 turnovers and two assists, and a 47-20 Iowa lead at the break had fans at Sunday’s contest preparing for early departures.

Instead, attendees were riveted during the game’s closing minutes, and it was not by “Lift that big burrito.”

A lay-up by Illini freshman Karisma Penn at the 13:21 mark of the second half appeared to bear little significance at the time.

However, that basket signaled the beginning of a mind-boggling 33-8 Illinois run that lasted 10 minutes.

With the Iowa lead standing at 18 with slightly more than 10 minutes remaining in regulation, I joked with a colleague about the possibility of a comeback.

But from that point, every Illinois made basket was no joke.

And during that run, I couldn’t decide who was more bewildered: me or every Hawkeye on the floor.

The Iowa team that couldn’t miss in the first half couldn’t buy a bucket in the second.

The Illinois offense — which may have been the worst Big Ten offense I have seen all season — was suddenly executing perfectly.

Iowa waited just about as long as possible to stifle the Illinois comeback. A cranked up defense and 8-of-8 free-throw shooting by junior Kachine Alexander finally sealed a 77-67 Hawkeye win.

After the game, Bluder joked her team was just attempting to keep things exciting during the final half. More importantly, the 10th year coach knew her squad learned a valuable lesson on Sunday.

Sure, there are plenty of excuses. Iowa hasn’t been in possession of many large leads this season.

There’s also the youth factor: The team’s eight active scholarship players include four freshmen and three sophomores.

None of these things would have held any validity, however, if Iowa had surrendered Sunday’s game.

Iowa’s Valentine’s Day 2010 experience may not have been a romantic lesson, but it was one the players won’t soon forget.

Play hard every possession, even if with a 30-point lead.

You just never know what could happen.

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