By John Bohnenkamp
Lisa Bluder had 30 seconds to come up with a plan.
Every defense Iowa had tried against Purdue had worked until it didn’t work anymore, and with the Hawkeyes down by six points and the memory of a bitter loss five days earlier still fresh in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Bluder knew she had to try something new.
The defense the Hawkeyes’ coach came up with, and the lineup she put on the floor to execute it that didn’t include her freshman point guard and on-the-court leader, worked.
Iowa’s 87-81 win on Monday afternoon was about a pair of decisions that led to a crucial victory at a time when the Hawkeyes needed it.
Iowa (9-3 overall, 5-3 Big Ten), which had lost back-to-back games, went on an 18-2 run after Bluder called a timeout with 4:59 to play and the Hawkeyes down, 75-69.
Iowa’s triangle-and-two defense was designed to contain Purdue’s 3-point shooters, including Madison Layden, who made six in the game, as well as shut down the lane after the Boilermakers made four consecutive shots inside in a 19-6 run.
“It wasn’t working what we were doing,” Bluder said. “So let’s go back to the play sheet and think of another defense we can try.”
What was also interesting about the change was the lineup Bluder put on the floor. Caitlin Clark, who earlier in the day was named the Big Ten’s freshman of the week for the seventh time in eight weeks this season, wasn’t on the court.
Instead it was starters Monika Czinano, Kate Martin, Gabbie Marshall and McKenna Warnock, and guard Tomi Taiwo off the bench.
“In that situation, the defense that we were in, the group we had on the floor was the best for us,: Bluder said. “We were preaching defense at that point. We just had to go with our best defensive team, and that’s what we did.”
“Honestly, switching up defenses helped a lot,” said Clark, who led the Hawkeyes with 26 points. “It started on defense for us. I think it’s where it’s always going to start with us. When we play good defense, we’re a great team.”
The Boilermakers (5-6, 2-5) were just 1-of-7 from the field in that stretch.
“I think it flustered them,” Clark said. “Credit to our defense, it was super good. We got stops and got easy shots around the rim.”
“I think we all just grinded down and buckled up on defense,” Warnock said.
Iowa hadn’t played since last Wednesday’s 84-82 overtime loss to Ohio State, a game in which the Hawkeyes led by 14 points in the third quarter, and couldn’t finish.
“I liked the way we closed this game as opposed to the last one,” Bluder said. “You could kind of feel our players thinking about the last time. So it was good we put a stop to that and came out and finished strong. I’m really happy with our defense down the stretch.”
It was a win that was sloppy at times. The Hawkeyes committed 16 turnovers, and at one point in the second half after a pass went out of bounds, Bluder stalked along the Iowa bench area and punctuated to her players, “Unforced. Turnovers. Unacceptable.”
The Ohio State loss was also haunting because the Hawkeyes were just 15-of-24 in free throws. They got to the line 31 times in this game, making 25, 20 more than the Boilermakers.
“We knew that we could make them,” said Warnock, who was 7-of-9 in free throws and finished with 19 points. “This game, it was up to us to attack and get to the free-throw line.”
“When you get 20 more points from the free-throw line to your opponent, you better win the game, in my opinion,” Bluder said.
“Free throws are easy points,” said Clark, who was 8-of-12 from the line, including closing that crucial fourth-quarter run by making two free throws. “They’re free for a reason.”
The decisions made in 30 seconds made a big impact for a team that needed a win.
“I think it was very important,” Clark said. “We knew we had to come in and have a good showing tonight. I think this was a good win and got us going again.”
Photo: Iowa’s McKenna Warnock (14) blocks a shot by Purdue guard Kayana Traylor. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)