March 9, 2014
By JAMES ALLAN
INDIANAPOLIS -- History wasn't on the No. 22 University of Iowa women's basketball team's side, given the task of winning four games in four days to win a Big Ten Tournament title, but you can't say the Hawkeyes didn't put up a fight.
Iowa fought back from an 18-4 first half and 41-28 early second-half deficit to within 57-56 with 7:13 remaining before No. 15 Nebraska made clutch plays and its free throws down the stretch to hand the Hawkeyes a 72-65 loss and claim the 2014 Big Ten Tournament title.
"I am proud of my kids and their effort," said UI head coach Lisa Bluder. "It was free throws, 36 free throws to your 14 and the box outs. We gave up way too many offensive rebounds, and it's hard to win a game with those type of numbers."
If the statistics told the entire story, the game shouldn't have been close. Nebraska had a 58-27 advantage on the glass, which included 26 offensive rebounds. The Huskers took advantage of second, third and sometimes fourth chances to post a 20-6 advantage in second-chance points.
Neither Iowa nor Nebraska shot particularly well. The Hawkeyes made 23-of-61 attempts (37.7 percent) from the floor and 8-of-25 (32 percent) from long range. Nebraska shot 31.3 percent (20-of-64) from the field, which included just two 3-pointers in 17 attempts.
The Huskers more than made up for their shooting difficulties at the line, converting 30-of-36 free throw attempts; Iowa was just 11-of-14.
After leading 34-26 at the half, Nebraska's Rachel Theriot got going early in the second half, scoring seven of the first nine points to give the Huskers a 41-28 lead. The Hawkeyes cut the deficit to single digits courtesy of a Samantha Logic 3-pointer at the 15:52 mark before junior Bethany Doolittle converted back-to-back field goals -- her first points of the game -- to make the score 43-38 with 14 minutes to play.
Nebraska pushed its lead back to eight points at the 10-minute mark behind a layup by Emily Cady, but Iowa kept fighting. The Hawkeyes trimmed the lead to five points (53-48) on a Dixon 3-pointer at the 9:33 mark before Ally Disterhoft's layup cut the margin to 53-50 with 8:46 remaining.
Dixon answered a Theriot jumper with another 3-pointer to make the score 55-53 with 8:06 to play and three Disterhoft free throws trimmed the Husker advantage to 57-56 with 7:13 remaining.
After coming away empty on two possessions with a chance to take the lead, Nebraska grabbed the momentum with four-point possession. After Tear'a Laudermill made her first free throw, Bluder was whistled for a technical foul, which led to two Theriot free throws. Laudermill then converted her second attempt, giving the Huskers a five-point advantage (61-56) with 4:43 left.
"I stomped my foot, that's why I got my technical," said Bluder. "I stomp my foot at my kids and it's a habit I do all the time. I've never gotten a technical for stomping my foot, but I did today.
"It seems like a crazy time to get one, and I take full responsibility for that. It was a bad time to get it, and I apologized to the team immediately. I wish I could have taken it back."
Disterhoft knocked down a pair of free throws on Iowa's next possession, cutting the lead to 61-58, but Theriot followed with a runner and two free throws, as the Huskers were too much down the stretch to run out 72-65 winners.
Disterhoft led a trio of Hawkeyes in double figures, scoring 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting. The freshman made 8-of-10 free throws and had four rebounds and three assists. Logic finished with 14 points, six rebounds and six assists, while Dixon made 3 3-pointers en route to 11 points.
Logic, Disterhoft and junior Bethany Doolittle were all selected to the Big Ten All-Tournament team.
Theriot led a quartet of Huskers in double figures with 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Jordan Hooper (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Hailie Sample (11 points, 15 rebounds) posted double-doubles, and Emily Cady also had 11 boards.
After playing to a 4-4 tie over the first two-and-a-half minutes, Nebraska grabbed the game's momentum with a 14-0 run to take an 18-4 lead at the 11:03 mark. The Hawkeyes missed nine consecutive shots and turned the ball over four times during the stretch.
Senior Theairra Taylor ended Iowa's seven-plus minute drought with a 3-pointer at the 10:45 mark, and the Hawkeyes methodically chipped away at the early deficit. A Dixon 3-pointer trimmed the lead to 23-14 with 7:43 to play, a Logic triple cut the margin to 29-22 with 5:39 remaining and four-straight points by Disterhoft trimmed the lead to 32-26 with 1:11 left.
Iowa will now await word on its seeding and opponent in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but Bluder likes her team's resume.
"I hate to predict seeds, but our RPI was about 23 coming into this, and I know that's not the only factory, but it's a significant factor," she said. "It only could have gone up since we have been here. I think we deserve a four or five seed, that's really legitimate."