Gonzaga, Iowa face off in women’s opener
Iowa has experience against high-octane offenses orchestrated by highly regarded point guards but it hasn’t always been a good experience.
The third-highest scoring team in the Big Ten has eight losses, twice each to Penn State and Ohio State, the two highest-scoring teams in the league, quarterbacked by the top two in assists.
Now the Hawkeyes have to contend with the fastest of the fast with the nation’s most efficient point guard.
Iowa (22-8), seeded sixth in the Spokane Regional, meets 11th-seeded Gonzaga (28-4) this afternoon at 1 in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in a matchup of two teams that prefer to run.
“They’re so fast,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I watch film and they’re chasing the sweeper girls off the other end with their transition.”
Iowa holds opponents to 63 points on 39 percent shooting but Gonzaga averages 87.5 points on 49.9 percent shooting.
“We like to get out and run, they really like to run,” All-Big Ten guard Kachine Alexander said. “You’ve got to slow down Gonzaga. … I think it’s going to come down to who’s better in the halfcourt.”
So even though the Hawkeyes average 70 points a game, they know offense is secondary.
“The big thing for us is our defense always triggers our offense,” Iowa leading scorer Jaime Printy said. “If we can get our defense going, our offense will definitely come.”
Slowing Gonzaga, which also says its offense comes from its defense, is never easy because of the presence of three-time West Coast Conference MVP Courtney Vandersloot, who became the third woman in NCAA history to surpass 1,000 career assists.
“It’s important for us to get two people back in transition,” junior guard Kamille Whalin said. “Their point guard is the key to their transition so we have to make sure that we try to pick her up and slow her down a little bit.”
Vandersloot leads the nation in assists (10.2) for the second straight year with a national best 3.34 assists-to-turnover ratio.
“Kach (Alexander) is excited to guard (Vandersloot) and we’ll definitely have her back,” Printy said.
Dealing with Alexander falls to Gonzaga senior Janelle Bekkering first. The 5-foot-9 Alexander is second in scoring for Iowa (14.3) but is first in rebounding (9.5).
“She’s definitely a very athletic guard,” said Bekkering, who is 6-foot. “I definitely need to block her out.”
But it’s not just Alexander, who GU coach Kelly Graves said is as good of player as his team has faced, that concerns the Bulldogs. Printy averages 16.5, Wahlin 12.1 and 6-5 Morgan Johnson 10.8. The fifth starter, Kelly Krei, is at 9.1.
“The more I watch Iowa the more I’m impressed with how they play,” Graves said. “They remind me of ourselves in some ways. They have four or five players who can have big nights, 20-plus point nights. You can’t just focus on one or two, you’ve got to focus on five at all times.
“You can tell they know how to play the game. They’re well-coached, defensively they’re very sound, they’re fundamental, they play hard. I think they play basketball the right way.”
But that is what has distinguished Gonzaga, which has better statistics than the Hawkeyes but has the advantage of 36 straight wins against WCC rivals compared to playing in the Big Ten, which has five teams in the tournament, all seeded higher than the Zags, plus three teams in the WNIT.
Vandersloot averages 18.6 points, 6-1 Katelan Redmon 17.3 and 6.2 rebounds, 6-3 Kayla Standish 16.6 and 8.7 rebounds and Bekkering 11.4 points.
“We know we’ve got a very tough challenge playing Gonzaga on their home floor and not only because of that but because they are a great team,” Bluder said. “This is a team that I think most teams that have played against them would argue they are an 11-seed. We know they are much better than that so we have our work cut out for us.”