Iowa out-hustled by Gonzaga

BY JON FRANK | MARCH 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Iowa’s 92-86 loss to Gonzaga was breathtaking — in more ways than one.

The stifling pace the game was played at kept fans on their feet, but it took its toll on the players — particularly Iowa’s players.

After giving up an 11-2 run early in the first half, the Hawkeyes looked exhausted. The starters on the floor sucked air, their jaws dropped as their lungs expanded and decompressed rapidly. They were competing with a team that never stopped running. A team that runs the same offensive style they do — frustrate on defense and score with fast-paced offensive plays.

But it was nothing they hadn’t seen before.

“I don’t think I saw much of a big difference as far as play-wise,” said senior guard Kachine Alexander, who pulled down 11 rebounds in the March 19 loss. “They transition a lot, but we have people in our conference who transition the same way.”

Sophomore guard Jaime Printy agreed.

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“I didn’t see much of the difference,” she said. “[Gonzaga] gets out and runs, but Penn State gets out and runs, too.”

But the Zags did it better.

They scored on fast breaks, they outrebounded the undersized Hawkeyes, and they forced 19 turnovers — 15 through steals.

Anytime an Iowa player touched the ball, she had a — and often two — Gonzaga defender frantically attacking, trying to strip her of possession. And things didn’t slow down on the other side, either.

The Bulldogs secured 17 of their points with fast-break opportunities. Point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who leads the nation in assists, ran the offense like a seasoned veteran. With quick passes, precise targeting, and aggressive drives, Vandersloot finished with 34 points and seven assists.

And although the Hawkeyes led at several times throughout the game, it seemed as though Vandersloot and her teammates remained in control — especially in the late stages of the contest.

The 44-37 Iowa halftime lead disappeared only two minutes into the second period. The sold-out crowd roared for Gonzaga as it took its Big Ten opponent on a roller-coaster ride of offensive exchanges. For every 3-pointer, there were back-to-back lay-ups by the Bulldogs. For every hard-nosed drive by Alexander, there was an equally as impressive dish to a wide open Zag on the wing.

All season long, the Hawks made their living ransacking their Big Ten opponents, forcing turnovers and tenaciously attacking the basket.

And it worked.

The Big Ten is traditionally known for having physical play and strong defense. Lisa Bluder’s squad was often able to take advantage in league play with its smaller set which features three guards — none of which are 6-0.

But the first-round NCAA Tournament matchup proved to be a bad one for Bluder’s Bunch. Gonzaga had more speed and better conditioning, and it started a bigger lineup with only one true guard. And don’t forget a phenomenally quick forward in Kayla Standish, who contributed 30 points.

“They did a great job out there today, especially in the second half,” Bluder said in a press conference after the loss. “We couldn’t do anything to stop Standish; she was excellent in there.”

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