Hawkeyes’ rematch against Spartans goes down to the wire — again

BY JON FRANK | JANUARY 28, 2011 7:10 AM

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The 4,550 fans in attendance at Carver-Hawkeye Arena erupted, rising to their feet as Iowa (16-5, 4-4) pulled off its biggest upset of the season Thursday against No. 10 Michigan State (18-3, 6-2).

The 66-64 victory was rife with drama, down to the expiring ticks of the clock. After nine ties and seven lead changes, the No. 18 Hawkeyes failed to capitalize on a late possession, and the teams were only separated by two points.

With 5.9 seconds left to play, the Spartans called a full time-out with possession of the ball to assess the situation. Despite trading blows all night with its Big Ten counterpart, coach Suzy Merchant’s squad still trailed by two.

Three shot attempts later, zero points.

“We just couldn’t put it down,” Merchant said. “It was pretty physical in there. You’ve got to score when you’re 2 feet from the rim.”

Michigan State dominated the Hawkeyes on the glass, recording 44 rebounds — 20 of which were offensive. But a meager 34 percent shooting percentage prevented the Spartans from sweeping Iowa in the season series.

“I can’t believe, quite honestly, that we won this game shooting that poorly from the free-throw line (Iowa went 11-of-18 from the line) and giving up that many offensive boards,” coach Lisa Bluder said. “They had 20 more shot attempts than we did. But we were very efficient with the ball when we had it.”

Senior guard Kachine Alexander led the way for the Hawkeyes. After asserting her presence from the onset of the game with three quick buckets — including a 3-pointer — she finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals. Thursday’s performance marked her 30th career double-double.

Statistics aside, the Minneapolis native’s role in preventing a last-second Michigan State comeback may have been her biggest contribution.

Setting up from beyond the arc as she had done to steal a 63-60 victory Jan. 13 against Iowa on a last second buzzer beater 3, Spartan forward Keane Kalisha was in position to play hero for her squad once again.

“We were supposed to switch all the screens, and I just didn’t. I was like ‘No,’ I am not letting go of [Keane],” said Alexander, who played all 40 minutes in Thursday’s win. “I went out, and I just put a hand up with everything. And I tipped it. And the rest is history.”

The game was hotly contested from tip-off to expiration. Michigan State’s early six-point in the first half quickly was erased, and a back and forth tug-of-war ensued.

The Hawkeyes headed to the locker room with a 35-32 halftime lead thanks to a 3-pointer by junior Kalli Hansen. The lead was both insecure and short-lived.

After racking up two fouls the first half and another quick two early in the second half, sophomore center Morgan Johnson was forced to sit out. An asset to Iowa’s rebounding game at 6-5, the Hawkeyes, already undersized, were forced to battle a bigger team, which leads the Big Ten with a plus-8.8 rebounding margin.

But thanks to a high shooting percentage and double-digit performances from sophomore Jaime Printy, junior Kelly Krei, and Alexander, the Hawkeyes made do with fewer scoring opportunities.

“This is a big win for us,” Bluder said. “This was a hard-fought battle for both teams. And it’s just like it was at their place: It was back and forth, and both teams I though played pretty well.”

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