Baylor runs through Greensboro.
GREENSBORO, NC — The Iowa Hawkeyes were significant underdogs going into their first ever Elite Eight game under head coach Lisa Bluder, and needed to play a near-perfect game in order to upset the No. 1 overall seeds in the NCAA tournament, the Baylor Bears. With all due respect, it’s safe to say that did not happen.
No. 1 Baylor defeated No. 2 Iowa 85-53, and it didn’t even feel that close.
“Baylor was just obviously too touch for us today,” Bluder said in press. “I don’t think we played our best game. Did Baylor have something to do with it? Absolutely. But I just wish that we could have shown a bit more of Iowa basketball.”
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Iowa held their own for the first few minutes — the score was tied 11-11 after a Kathleen Doyle fastbreak layup with 4:37 left in the first quarter. But two jump-shots in the next minute by Baylor’s Didi Richards put Baylor up for good. The Bears led 21-13 at the end of the first, and 41-27 at halftime. Iowa wouldn’t get within 14 points for the rest of the game.
Baylor advances to the fourth women’s Final Four in school history, and their first since winning it all in 2012.
“I am so happy for those seniors,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “I am so happy for those players, and I’m happy for Baylor University. I’m happy for Baylor University. Plaster that on the front page of every national newspaper. It doesn’t get any more positive than this.”
Here are the main takeaways from the beatdown:
Lauren Cox and Baylor won the Battle of the Bigs
On Sunday in press, Mulkey seemed beyond irritated that the media was hyping the match-up between Iowa’s Megan Gustafson and Baylor’s Kalani Brown. The fact that people thought that Iowa’s frontcourt of Gustafson and Hannah Stewart was in the same league as Brown and Lauren Cox seemed to downright insult her.
And, well, on Monday night, Mulkey’s reaction seemed downright reasonable. Baylor had 52 points in the paint; Iowa only had 24. In the press conference, I asked Mulkey if she believed her team sent a message with their performance.
“I don’t know that there’s any message,” she said. “This is who we are. Y’all just haven’t seen us play in person. This is our basketball team. I have two of the greatest post players in the country, and they are so unselfish and wanted it to play together, and there’s no message to be sent.”
While Brown was solid, with 14 points and 7 rebounds, Cox was sensational, finishing with 22 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks. She had an absolutely highlight-worthy, earth-shattering block of Gustafson in the third quarter that Gustafson will remember for years to come.
“They were just throwing extra bodies at me,” Gustafson said.
“It was a team effort. Kalani obviously started on [Gustafson] and I was playing on her some, too. We just tried to limit her touches and do whatever she could. I mean, she’s a good player,” Cox said. “She’s going to get her points, and we just couldn’t let that second and third player go off for them.”
Gustafson still had a decent night, with 23 points and 9 rebounds, but she wasn’t nearly as efficient as she usually is, shooting only 9-for-17. Stewart was the real weak link, though. She had two fouls after the first quarter, which caused her to have to sit for most of the second. Overall, she was 3-for-10 for 8 points, 4 boards, and 2 assists.
Didi Richards continued to star
The post players have gotten all of the attention for Baylor this year, but sophomore Didi Richards has been the breakout star of the Greensboro regional. She followed up her career-high 25 points against South Carolina on Saturday by shooting 7-for-10 for 16 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and one steal on Monday night.
“Didi shocked the world,” Brown said after the game.
“It’s not something you expect, just something that kind of comes, I guess,” Richards said. “But without my teammates I would not be able to do what I do, because without the — without the attention they get in the inside, I wouldn’t be so wide open under.”
At the end of the day, the scariest thing about Baylor isn’t necessarily their frontcourt; it’s their depth. Let’s take the first quarter as an example; all five Baylor starters scored at least two points, and nobody scored more than six points. It was a relentlessly balanced attack, and it just kept coming from all corners. In addition to Brown, Cox, and Richards, Chloe Jackson was 7-for-16 for 14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 assists.
And, it’s worth noting that they had an uncharacteristically paltry game from outside the arc, going 1-for-8. So, if that gets clicking in the Final Four, it might be over for everyone else.
Iowa’s offense was non-existent
Look, I don’t want to pile on Iowa. This was clearly a rough night for them, and not one characteristic of their stellar season. But it needs to be pointed out that their offense was just completely absent from the floor on Monday.
In the first quarter, they shot 35.3 percent. In the second quarter, they shot 31.3 percent. In the third quarter??? An embarrassing 23.1 percent. Gustafson made nine shots. The rest of the team made nine shots COMBINED.
Of course, Baylor’s defense had something to do with this.
“I looked at their numbers and obviously watched them on film and I thought their defense was good. I didn’t realize it was that good, until you’re out there playing against them,” Bluder said. “I mean, I hope they win it all.”
When Stewart missed a fast-break layup late in the second half, the game was pretty much over. Baylor was in Iowa’s heads, and honestly, they will be for quite some time.
“What we do know is we can defend you and we’re going to give everything we have on the defensive end of the floor,” Mulkey said. “That’s the way I was taught and that’s the way I believe, and all these high-octane offenses now, nobody wants to believe post game is effective any more; I do.”
While this loss was clearly devastating, Iowa was able to reflect on all they’ve accomplished this year after the game.
“I’m going to try not to remember this game,” Bluder said. “To me, I’m going to remember cutting down the Nets with these guys after winning a Big Ten Championship. I’m going to remember [Tania Davis’s] results coming back. I’m going to remember Hannah Stewart’s journey. I’m going to remember getting the opportunity to coach one of the best basketball players in America in Megan, and that’s what I’m going to remember about this season. I’m going to remember the relationships and just the — the great memories with these young ladies.”
In the presser, Gustafson sobbed as she talked about her legacy.
“God has just blessed me with an amazing ability to play basketball, and I’m just so, so pleased and thankful that the University of Iowa chose me and I chose to play for them,” she said.
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