By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The offense is there and defense is on its way.
After wins against Oral Roberts and Western Kentucky, the No. 13 University of Iowa women’s basketball team is 2-0 and averaging 97 points per game.
The Hawkeyes run the floor and have five players with at least two 3-point field goals.
The low-post combination of All-American Megan Gustafson and Hannah Stewart accounts for 42.5 points and 20 rebounds a game.
So, what’s on the wish list for Saturday’s game against North Carolina Central?
“Defense is the steppingstone,” said sophomore Zion Sanders, who was 3-for-3 from beyond the arc during a 104-67 win at Western Kentucky on Tuesday. “We always want to be the aggressor, because on defense, it is good getting stops and turnovers. That allows us to get our transition points, which is where we’re best.”
Offense isn’t an issues with the Hawkeyes, who averaged 78.7 points in 32 games last season. So far in 2018-19, they have scored 90 against Oral Roberts and 104 against Western Kentucky. What sticks in Iowa’s craw is being outscored 54-41 in the second half against Oral Roberts on Nov. 9. Over the final 20 minutes, the Golden Eagles made 17-of-32 field goals, 12-of-18 coming from distance.
“We’re going to keep focusing on defense,” said Gustafson, who had 12 rebounds, three blocks, and two steals against Western Kentucky. “That is something we can always keep improving.”
Iowa stormed out of the locker room at halftime Tuesday, outscoring Western Kentucky 29-10 in the third quarter. The Hawkeyes held the Lady Toppers to 31 points in the second half.
“It felt good, especially coming out of that halftime locker room,” Gustafson said. “We knew what happened against Oral Roberts — we kind of let up a little bit and we did not want that to happen, so lesson learned. We were able to come out take care of them right away.”
Iowa hosts North Carolina Central (0-3) on Saturday with a 7 p.m. (CT) tip. The Eagles are 0-3 and average 54.7 points per game. In their last outing Wednesday, North Carolina Central lost at Winthrop, 66-41.
Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said this game provides the Hawkeyes another opportunity to rise to the defensive challenge.
“(Defense) is something we focused on in the summer,” she said. “It is something that we feel, when we look at our team, where can we get better? That is an area where we can get better so we want to keep working on that.”
Saturday’s game on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena is the last home game for the Hawkeyes until a Dec. 2 meeting against Robert Morris. In between will be two games in the Bahamas and an ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup at Notre Dame.
Bluder wouldn’t mind seeing a rerun of Iowa’s performance at Western Kentucky, where it shot 68.9 percent from the field with 37 rebounds, 34 assists, and eight blocked shots.
“Shot well and rebounded well,” Bluder said. “It was one of those fun games where everybody was in their zone. I would like to replicate that over and over and over again. That will be the test now, to continue that kind of momentum.”
Gustafson was 13-for-13 from the field against Western Kentucky and 3-of-4 from the free throw line. She took some ribbing for the missed free throw.
“Hannah got my (offensive) board, so it all worked out in the end,” Gustafson said after a hearty laugh.
This will be the first meeting between Iowa and North Carolina Central, a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference from Durham, North Carolina.
“We will try to get our focus back after playing on the road and having a good game,” Bluder said. “Getting their heads on right is going to be the main thing.”