March 8, 2014
By JAMES ALLAN
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Hawkeyes have lived to see another day... and play for a Big Ten Tournament title.
The No. 23 University of Iowa women's basketball team never trailed in a 77-73 victory over eighth-seeded Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Hawkeyes will face the winner of this afternoon's Michigan State/Nebraska game on Sunday at noon (CT).
"It means a lot for our program to get to the championship game," said UI head coach Lisa Bluder. "We haven't been here since 2010, but these kids deserve it. They work so hard, and they deserve this opportunity."
After seeing a 10-point second half lead wilt away and the Buckeyes tying the game at 73 with two minutes remaining, senior Theairra Taylor delivered what Bluder calls an "oh wow" moment to give the Hawkeyes a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"Theairra gives you so many of those "oh wow" moments, and I love those "oh wow" moments," said Bluder. "That last layup she made was one of those. She is playing well right now and feeling good going to the rim."
With the shot clock winding down, Taylor split three Ohio State defenders, left her feet before flipping the ball up and off the glass for a layup to make the score 75-73.
"I practice a lot of those crazy shots in the gym for fun because you never know when you'll need them in a game," said Taylor, who finished with a game-high 21 points.
The Buckeyes had a chance tie or take the lead, but when Martina Ellerbe's 3-point attempt from the corner with 10 seconds remaining caromed off the iron, and Iowa secured the rebound. After playing keep-away before getting fouled, junior Melissa Dixon sealed the win with two free throws to send Iowa to its first Big Ten Tournament championship game since 2010 and its fourth appearance all-time.
"We kept our composure," said Taylor. "We've played in close games before; we played in a close one yesterday. We wanted to use our composure and experience and try to pull it out that way."
Taylor made 8-of-12 shot attempts and three 3-pointers en route to her 21-point output. Freshman Ally Disterhoft scored 18 points and had eight rebounds, junior Bethany Doolittle had 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go along with five boards, and Dixon made 5-of-11 attempts (four 3-pointers) en route to 16 points. Junior Samantha Logic scored only one point, but had a game-high nine assists.
Iowa was playing with a short bench with freshman Alexa Kastanek not seeing the court after rolling her ankle in the Hawkeyes' quarterfinal victory over No. 17 Purdue.
The Hawkeyes finished 43.1 percent (25-of-58) from the floor and made 8-of-23 3-pointers (34.8 percent) in the game. Iowa had 18 assists on its 25 field goals, and made 19-of-25 free throw attempts.
Ohio State pounded the ball inside, scoring 46 points in the paint, which contributed to its 51.8 percent (29-of-56) field goal percentage. After being sizzling from long range in the tournament's first two games, the Buckeyes made only 3-of-16 3-pointers. Guard Ameryst Alston paced Ohio State with 20 points, making 8-of-13 attempts.
After taking a five-point lead into the half, Iowa pushed its lead to double digits behind a Disterhoft 3-pointer and a scoop, up-and-under layup by Taylor on the first two possessions of the second half. The Hawkeyes then stretched their advantage to a game-high 11 points (54-43) on a Doolittle jumper with 18:23 to play.
Ohio State made run-after-run at the Hawkeyes, but each time Iowa had an answer.
The Buckeyes closed the gap to 54-50 on an Alston 3-pointer with 16:09 left before Taylor followed with a 3-pointer and old-fashioned three-point play to stretch the lead to 10 (60-50) with 15:39 left. Ohio State climbed to within 61-57 on an Alston layup with 12:31 remaining before the Hawkeyes reeled off six-straight points to open up a 10-point lead with nine minutes to play.
Ohio State cut its deficit to four points at 69-65 with 6:44 remaining on an Ashley Adams layup before five Hawkeye free throws pushed the lead to eight points (73-65) with 4:34 left. The Buckeyes then sustained momentum, using eight-straight points by Darryce Moore to even the game at 73 with 2:02 to play.
The Hawkeyes stormed out of the gate, making their first five field goals to jump out to a 12-3 lead two and a half minutes in. After a pair of Dixon 3-pointers pushed the Hawkeye advantage to 18-8, the Buckeyes reeled off 8-of-10 points, but Dixon's third 3-pointer made the score 23-16 at the 12:42 mark. Iowa made 9-of-12 shots and 3-of-4 long balls to start the contest.
Doolittle scored six-straight Hawkeye points to extend Iowa's lead to 31-22, but the Buckeyes responded with a 13-0 run to even the game at 33 with 5:45 left in the half. Two Taylor 3-pointers and Dixon's fourth long ball of the half helped Iowa push its lead to 46-40 with 55 seconds left, and the Hawkeyes led 47-42 at the half.
After starting 9-of-12 from the floor, Iowa went 7-of-21 the remainder of the half to shoot 16-of-33 (48.5 percent) from the field. The Hawkeyes made six first-half 3-pointers and had 13 assists on 16 makes. Ohio State shot 58.6 percent (17-of-29) and had a 28-10 advantage in paint points.
Sunday's championship game will begin at noon (CT) and be televised on ESPN.