INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa needed to bolster its resume to keep any hopes alive for an at-large bid to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
That resume isn’t going to be needed anymore.
Iowa rallied from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter and took the lead with three minutes remaining, but faltered down the stretch in a 78-73 loss to Northwestern in the second round of the Big Ten tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
And with the loss, the Hawkeyes are likely headed for the WNIT.
They needed, at bare minimum, two wins in the conference tournament to make a solid case they belonged in the NCAA tournament.
Iowa’s loss can be summed up in a few words: Northwestern forward Nia Coffey. The national player of the year candidate scored 34 points, 15 of those in the second quarter. Coffey made 15-of-26 shots from the field and added eight rebounds.
“A lot of Nia Coffey,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder lamented in the opening statement of her postgame news conference.
Iowa tried using zone and man-to-man defensive schemes against Coffey, but nothing really slowed her down except foul trouble that began to surface in the final minutes of the first half.
“I think in the second and third quarters they were able to get a box overload on us and sometimes I got stuck in the high post and coming down I wasn’t able to close out baseline,” said Iowa sophomore Megan Gustafson, who scored a career-high 27 points. “Our traps needed to be a little bit better.”
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Northwestern scored on eight of its first nine second-half possessions and built a 60-48 lead with 90 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Gustafson provided a much-needed spark, scoring the final seven points of the quarter — all coming after Coffey picked up her third foul.
Iowa slowly climbed back into the game. Ally Disterhoft scored five quick points, Makenzie Meyer hit a 3-pointer, Kathleen Doyle made a pair of free throws and Gustafson scored inside to bring the Hawkeyes to within a point.
Doyle scored a layup in transition to put Iowa ahead, 69-68, with 3:40 remaining. But the Hawkeyes’ lead, their first since midway through the second quarter, was short-lived.
Northwestern guard Christen Inman hit a jumper to put the Wildcats in the lead, and Iowa didn’t score over the next three minutes, including a turnover on consecutive possessions in the final two minutes.
“We turned the ball over at the end of the game too many times,” Bluder said. “We didn’t give ourselves opportunities.”
Still, the Hawkeyes had one last chance. Trailing 74-71 with 14 seconds remaining, Disterhoft drove the baseline and found Meyer open in the corner but she missed a 3-pointer on a designed play out of a timeout that was otherwise executed well. Northwestern followed by making a pair of free throws to seal the win.
“They have a star player, but they also have a group of other young women that are very capable of scoring,” Disterhoft said. “That’s just basketball. It’s a game of runs and they went on a run in that stretch. They had good offensive and defensive intensity and we just didn’t respond as well as we could have at the end of the second quarter.”
Northwestern also held a 39-30 rebounding edge, including 18 offensive rebounds that led to 13 second-chance points.
“You have control over your box-outs and that one is frustrating,” Bluder said.
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Disterhoft added 18 points and five assists, while receiving a prestigious honor before the game. She was selected as the 2017 CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year for the second consecutive season.
“It’s a real blessing to be able to coach Ally,” Bluder said. “She’s a local player and it’s fun for those kind of players to come to Iowa and have success. Anytime somebody has success in one area you’re thrilled for them. It takes a lot of work as a student-athlete to be able to do both well and she’s shown she has been a great role model that everything can be done.”