By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Guards Tania Davis and Kathleen Doyle both have dealt with more than their share of adversity as members of the Iowa women’s basketball team.
So that made Wednesday’s 73-70 victory over Iowa State that much sweeter because Davis and Doyle both played key roles.
Davis made what proved to be the game-winning basket from 3-point range with 2.3 seconds remaining, while Doyle returned from a hand injury that occurred during preseason practice and scored 22 points in her season debut.
The victory was Iowa’s third in a row over Iowa State and it improved Iowa’s record to 5-2 overall, while Iowa State fell to 6-1 on the season.
“I’m trending on Twitter,” Davis said as she arrived for the post-game press conference, along with Doyle, senior center Megan Gustafson and head coach Lisa Bluder. “So it’s a good day, trending on Twitter and we beat Iowa State.”
Bluder compared Doyle’s triumphant return to the victory by Iowa heavyweight wrestler Sam Stoll that lifted the Hawkeyes past Iowa State 19-18 this past Saturday.
Stoll also had been sidelined by an injury, but he decided to wrestle after seeing his team struggle to put the Cyclones away.
“I guess wrestling had Sam Stoll and we had Kathleen Doyle tonight,” Bluder said. “One day of practice and she comes back and has 22 points. But it was her defense that we really needed out there tonight. So I’m extremely happy about that, and I told Tania that’s a shot she’s going to remember for the rest of her life.
“I’m so happy for her, what she’s been through. For her to have the opportunity to have a game winner in her senior year, and especially against Iowa State, it’s pretty awesome.”
The 5-foot-3 Davis has suffered two season-ending knee injuries in college, with the most recent coming last season as a junior. The Michigan native is now determined to get the most out of her senior season.
“It means a lot,” Davis said. “Just thinking about everything that I’ve had to go through, all the pain, all the struggles, the long hours of rehab, working on myself before I can get back into working as a team, and seeing it pay off this far into the season is truly amazing.”
Iowa State forward Bridget Carleton made a short bank shot to give her team a 69-68 lead with 49.1 seconds remaining.
Iowa called a timeout and then tried to feed the ball to Gustafson in the post, but she was blanketed, so Doyle drove to the basket and drew a shooting foul instead.
The junior from Illinois made both free throws to put Iowa back on top 70-69 with 36.5 remaining.
Carleton then drew a foul on Gustafson and made one of two free throws to even the score at 70 with 27 seconds remaining.
That set the stage for Davis who dribbled patiently while waiting for the right time and the right opportunity to shoot. Davis said she decided to shoot once Carleton, who had four fouls at the time, gave her space near the 3-point line.
“Coming off that screen as I backed up I knew she was in foul trouble and she didn’t want to foul me, especially on the drive, so I got a little bit of daylight and shot over her,” Davis said.
Iowa State still had chance to push the game into overtime, but freshman Ashley Joens missed a 3-point shot from the baseline.
It was that kind of night for the former City High star, who missed nine of her 10 field-goal attempts.
“Obviously, it was a big moment for her from Iowa City,” Carleton said of Joens. “All of her family was here. She was a freshman and didn’t know what to expect, but she’ll learn from it. She loves basketball. She’ll be in the gym tomorrow, I’m sure, hitting that shot.”
The biggest difference in Wednesday’s game came at the free throw line where Iowa made all 15 of its attempts, while Iowa State missed eight of its 17 attempts.
“First of all, I'd say that was a great game, great for the sport, great game for the state," said Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly. "I couldn’t be more proud of our team, I love this team. I love the way they play. I love the way they compete.
“But you go 9-for-17 from the free throw line and the other guy goes 15 for 15, you’re going to lose on the road. And that's kind of what happened. But I couldn't be more proud of the effort that we put in in a great environment.”
Fennelly had high praise for his opponent on Wednesday.
"They've got a great team, Lisa has got a great team," Fennelly said. "I love the crowd. I love the enthusiam. This is a team that I hope the crowd supports for the rest of the year. They're fun to watch and well coached. They've got some great senior leaders. They've got a team that is going to do a lot of good things in the Big Ten.
"We did everything we could for as long as we could. Just a great shot by them. That's what seniors do."
Gustafson recorded yet another double-double in scoring and rebounding with 13 points and 16 rebounds, but it wasn’t easy as Iowa State’s defense was designed to limit her touches. She only took seven field-goal attempts, which was the fourth highest total on her team.
But she dominated on the boards and became Iowa’s career leader in rebounds in the first quarter of Wednesday’s game.
“I love rebounding,” Gustafson said. “It’s one of my favorite things, and so to even be mentioned with some of the names before me is special.”
The Cyclones outscored 16th-ranked Iowa 20-13 in the third quarter to erase a 40-36 halftime deficit. Iowa only made two field goals in the third quarter, with both coming from Doyle.
Iowa scored the first five points in the fourth quarter and took the lead again at 58-56 on a basket by senior forward Hannah Stewart.
The Cyclones tied the score at 58-58, but Stewart answered with back-to-back baskets to give Iowa a 62-58 lead with 6:46 left to play.
Stewart then made a baseline jumper to give Iowa a 66-65 lead with 2:37 left to play.
Stewart repeatedly found open looks against an Iowa State defense that was clearly designed to contain Gustafson near the basket.
Gustafson entered Wednesday’s game needing four rebounds to become Iowa’s career leader in rebounds and she achieved that milestone with 4:24 left in the first quarter. She grabbed five rebounds in the first quarter and had nine by halftime.
But she also was held to just six points in the first half and only attempted four shots in the first two quarters as the Cyclones made it tough for her to get open looks.
Doyle’s much-anticipated return from a hand injury paid immediate dividends as she led Iowa with nine points and with four made field goals in the first half.
“I’m not going to lie, I struggled not being able to play,” Doyle said. “If anyone who knows me knows that I just love playing basketball and I’m so happy to be on this team.
“So not being able to play was really hard for me, but staying around my teammates and making sure I was talking in practice and being a leader really helped me. My teammates and coaches did a great job keeping me involved.”
Iowa raced to a 13-4 lead and led 21-11 after the first quarter.
The Cyclones then settled down on both ends of the floor and battled back to even the score at 29 on a 3-point basket by Kristin Scott with 5:08 left in the second quarter.
Iowa then responded with an 11-2 scoring run that included back-to-back 3-point baskets by Doyle and Davis.
But the Cyclones answered back by scoring the final five points of the second quarter, cutting the deficit to 40-36 at halftime.
Neither team could seize the momentum in the second half and the outcome still was in doubt until Joens' 3-point shot bounced off the rim.
Iowa fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when the buzzer sounded, while the Iowa players and coaches celebrated on the court.
Davis and Doyle shared an emotional embrace once the game ended. They both finally had reason to celebrate, and it couldn't have come at a better time.