March 6, 2014
By DARREN MILLER
INDIANAPOLIS -- It's the time of the season when you don't mind holding practice in a hotel ballroom.
The 23rd-ranked University of Iowa women's basketball team (24-7) earned that right Thursday, advancing to the Big Ten Conference Tournament quarterfinals by knocking off Illinois (9-21), 81-62, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Hawkeyes return to the court Friday against No. 17 Purdue (21-7) at approximately 1:30 p.m. (CT). Purdue stunned the Hawkeyes 74-73 on Feb. 16 in West Lafayette, Ind., in the only meeting of the season between the teams.
"Purdue is an excellent basketball team, so we know we have our work cut out for us," said UI head coach Lisa Bluder. "We're going to go back to that game film from last time and look at the first half when we played very well and try to draw off of that with confidence."
In that game, Iowa led by 18 points (44-26) with 48 seconds left before halftime. It is the Hawkeyes' only loss in their last eight games.
"It wasn't that long ago when we played them and that helps," Bluder said. "Right now it has to be a lot more mental preparation than physical preparation. We're not going to have a practice, we will have a 30-minute shoot-around tomorrow. So we're going to watch film tonight, go through the scouting report, do some mock basketball in the ballroom. The thing about Purdue is they run so many sets. That's what is hard because you can't possibly prepare for so many sets without a practice, so we have to fall back on fundamentals."
UI junior center Bethany Doolittle had a lot to do with helping her team advance past Illinois, the No. 12 seed. Doolittle made 10-of-14 field goals and 6-of-6 free throws for a career-high 26 points, sharing game-high scoring honors with Amber Moore of Illinois.
"We tried to look inside," Doolittle said. "That was a good advantage for us. Our passes were great on the outside and finding people when they were open. When people worked hard and got position down low, they found us and we made baskets."
The Hawkeyes scored 32 points in the paint, thanks to high-percentage shots by Doolittle that were set up with assists by junior Samantha Logic (six), senior Theairra Taylor (five) and freshman Alexa Kastanek (five). Kastanek compiled her total in 22 minutes. Iowa shot 62.5-percent (15-of-24) in the second half.
"Lexie Kastanek did a great job," Bluder said. "She had some beautiful passes, especially out of those traps, and long passes down to our pasts underneath. That was great."
Iowa had 20 assists on 27 made field goals and shot 54 percent from the field for the game (27-of-50).
UI junior Melissa Dixon added 15 points and two 3-point field goals, while freshman Ally Disterhoft turned in the third double-double of her career with 14 points and 12 rebounds (five offensive). Logic pulled down 11 rebounds to go with her game-high assist total.
Illinois, which entered the tournament as the league's best in turnover margin (plus-5.1 per game), forced the Hawkeyes into 24 errors, their highest total of the season.
"I wouldn't expect anything less of Illinois today to come out and give us their best shot. We did have too many turnovers, but we didn't let it take us out of our game," Bluder said. "Sometimes when you're doing things you know you shouldn't be doing by turning the ball over it can rattle you mentally. I thought we regained our focus at halftime and did a better job of taking care of the basketball."
The Hawkeyes led 11-2 after the first 3:40, but momentum swayed when Logic got in foul trouble. She was whistled for three fouls and played just 10 minutes in the first half, spending the final 4:50 on the bench.
Illinois took its only lead of the game at the 4:22 mark when Moore hit a jump shot to put the Illini ahead 27-26. It was all Iowa from there. The Hawkeyes closed the half on a 15-2 run, highlighted by a block and rebound by Disterhoft with 1:29 left before the break. Doolittle scored five points and Kastanek added a 3-pointer following the key play by Disterhoft.
Iowa swept the three-game series against the Illini this season, playing all three games within 21 days.
The Hawkeyes evened their Big Ten Tournament record to 12-12 under Bluder. They are 1-2 against Purdue in the postseason since 2001. Iowa defeated the Boilermakers 75-70 to win the tournament championship in 2001; the last meeting was in the 2008 semifinals with Purdue advancing with an 80-73 decision.