Feb. 27, 2014
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Theairra Taylor said thanks to Hawkeye fans after a game that was ceremonially carved out for her on the schedule. But the cheers and acknowledgments needed to be aimed directly at Taylor.
The lone senior on the University of Iowa women's basketball team, Taylor was recognized Thursday on Senior Night, moments after a titanic effort by the guest of honor carried the Hawkeyes to a 65-61 win over Ohio State on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
With its second victory in a row, Iowa stays alive in the hunt for fourth place in the conference at 22-7 overall, 10-5 in Big Ten play. Ohio State fell to 15-16, 5-10.
Iowa trailed by seven points with 11:41 left in its final regular season home game. Then the Hawkeyes relied on Taylor to energize a Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd of 3,492; her 10 points the rest of the way were crucial -- if not necessary -- to escape the upset-minded Buckeyes.
"We're all so competitive and I saw the game kind of getting away from us," Taylor said. "I tried to pick it up defensively, that's the only place you can really do it. Offense has to come to you, but defensively you can make that happen."
There were plenty of highlights by Taylor on Theairra Taylor Night. The biggest ones came when the Hawkeyes needed her most:
With 11:41 left, Taylor makes a layup to pull Iowa within 51-46...with 10:37 left, Melissa Dixon cuts the deficit to 51-50 with a layup that was a direct result of a steal and assist by Taylor.
"We were out there standing around like zombies and they weren't expecting us to shoot the passing lane, so I figured it was a good time to take a chance," Taylor said.
Taylor scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-14 field goals (2-of-3 3-pointers) with seven rebounds, four assists, and four steals. Her surgically repaired, and repaired, and repaired knees saw 36 minutes of playing time.
"The most important thing was it was Theairra's night. It was the night for her and it was a win for the Hawks," UI head coach Lisa Bluder said. "We wanted to honor Thea, and how fitting for us to win and for her to have the game high and for her to have a season high tonight. She does it in so many different ways too: Seven rebounds, four assists, four steals. So I'm very, very happy for Thea."
Dixon made 6-of-11 field goals (with two 3-pointers) to finish with 14 points. Junior center Bethany Doolittle added 12 points, three steals and two blocked shots. Freshman Ally Disterhoft grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds and junior Samantha Logic handed out 10 assists and matched Taylor with four steals.
The Hawkeyes forced Ohio State into 21 turnovers; Iowa's 15 steals is a season-high. Bluder said the steal by Taylor that led to Dixon's layup was her "Thea Moment of the Game."
"I always love the steals that lead to baskets," Bluder said. "To me, that's a lot of fun. So she got her hands up and she got her hands in the passing lane and made some great deflections, and she kept the ball in play. She was able to find Melissa once on that long halfcourt pass, and that was fun. But any time we get that steal, it's great."
Taylor, who has scored in double figures 11 of the last 13 games, said her final regular-season home game played out the way she would have liked, with one exception.
"Maybe not sweat so much toward the end," she said with a smile. "But it was a great game and everyone played hard."
The Hawkeyes took a 36-34 lead into halftime when Doolittle made a jump shot with 10 seconds left. There were nine lead changes and six ties during the first 20 minutes. Taylor and Doolittle led Iowa with eight points at the break, Disterhoft had seven points and five rebounds.
Iowa came out on top on the final scoreboard, despite trailing Ohio State in field goal percentage (46.2 to 41.7), 3-point percentage (33.3 to 29.4), free throw percentage (66.7 to 55.6) and rebounds (35 to 34).
But the Buckeyes had no answer for Thea.
The Hawkeyes conclude the regular season Sunday at Illinois with a 3 p.m. (CT) tip. The teams met Feb. 13 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena with Iowa posting a 69-55 victory.