By Chad Leistikow
An in-state rivalry fraught with extra emotion on each sideline was ultimately decided by a single statistic: 77 inches.
That’s the height of Morgan Johnson, who piled up a season-high 26 points Sunday as Iowa secured a season sweep of state schools in women’s basketball by beating a spunky Drake squad 82-65.
Before a revved-up crowd of 2,716 at the Knapp Center that felt more like 4,000, the Bulldogs (3-6) seemed to embody the motivation of first-year coach Jennie Baranczyk, who starred at Iowa from 2000 to 2004, for most of the game’s 40 minutes.
But each time Drake seemed to generate momentum, Iowa took to a reliable strategy to deflect it: Lob, catch, layup. Repeat.
Johnson, who at 6-foot-5 is 5 inches taller than Drake’s best inside player, reached up high to catch passes from her guards and plopped in short bucket after bucket.
Lob, catch, layup.
“For me, it was great. It’s awesome when you play people a lot shorter than you. I don’t see that a lot,” said Johnson, who shot 11-for-19 and tacked on eight rebounds and three blocks, one game after a season-worst seven points against Iowa State. “My guards did a great job keeping their passes high and out of (Drake’s) hands.”
The lob-catch-layup routine helped Iowa (8-3) produce a season-best 52.5 percent shooting and 23 assists — including seven apiece from Samantha Logic and Jaime Printy and six from Theairra Taylor — to a season-low eight turnovers.
Johnson’s success wasn’t a surprise to Baranczyk, 30, known as Jennie Lillis in the Hawkeye record books as the No. 4 scorer in school history.
“I just hope the Missouri Valley doesn’t get a Morgan Johnson over Christmas break,” Baranczyk said. “That was the problem today. That was the biggest difference in the game.
“I said it before the game, I’ll say it again. Morgan Johnson is just one of the best players in the country.”
But Johnson wasn’t the only player Sunday to enjoy a splashy stat line.
Trisha Nesbitt, a senior from Ames, scored a career-best 12 points in 15 minutes in front of family and friends. She entered the afternoon with 16 points for the season.
“I had about 18 people that I put on the ticket list,” said Nesbitt, who is engaged to former Hawkeye men’s player Jarryd Cole. “I had a bunch of other people come, too.
“It’s fun to come out as a team and get this big win. It was our goal to get the state championship. This was really huge for us.”
Iowa had beaten Northern Iowa (by 22) and Iowa State (by eight) at home before showing up in Des Moines, where the feisty Bulldogs — ranked No. 321 among 345 Division I women’s teams by RealtimeRPI.com compared with No. 42 for Iowa — were doing their best to play spoiler. Led by the razor-sharp three-point shooting of Kyndal Clark (6-for-7), Drake led by as many as nine points at 26-17.
But a 22-2 run before halftime put the Hawkeyes up 11, and the mythical state title was theirs to lose.
“In the beginning, our defense was a little bit weak,” Nesbitt said. “We had to pick up our intensity.”
That intensity stemmed from Baranczyk, a Dowling Catholic alum who was groomed as a college player under Iowa coach Lisa Bluder.
“Probably the most awkward thing was the initial handshake when every camera in town was there,” Baranczyk said. “Hopefully, they got my good side. Once the ball goes up … We both just go into game mode.”
Bluder, too, was well aware of the day’s emotional element of going against the school she coached from 1990 to 2000 — she’s won 11 in a row since her last loss to the Bulldogs in 2001 — and her former star center.
Although Baranczyk’s coaching tenure is only nine games old, there’s reason to believe things are on the right track.
“The biggest thing was we played as a team,” said Clark, who led Drake with 19 points. “We brought the energy. We left everything out on the court. We’re making progress. We’re getting there.”
Bluder left the Knapp Center relieved with the victory that put the Hawkeyes within two of their goal of 10 nonconference wins with three to play.
She also was left impressed by Drake’s Baranczyk-inspired scrappiness.
“You’ve got to like a team that does that for their coach,” Bluder said. “She’s going to do a great job. You can see how hard she has her team playing. When your kids play as hard as those Drake kids played tonight, they’re going to win games. She’s definitely got them playing in the right way.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball