INDIANAPOLIS — One down, three to go.
Iowa looked every part of being a contender for the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament championship in its 55-45 win over Northwestern in a second-round game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Well, at least in the first quarter. Iowa didn’t allow a field goal and jumped out to a 22-1 lead and needed every bit of that early cushion.
The Hawkeyes (24-6) struggled to score over the final three quarters as Northwestern slowly chipped away. Iowa’s lead shrunk to five points, 47-42, with four minutes remaining in the game but Alexis Sevillian hit a key 3-pointer — her second big perimeter shot of the quarter — to put an end to the Wildcats’ final push.
But thank goodness for that opening quarter.
“We needed all of that to finish this game,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said.
Iowa has won eight straight games and advances to meet Minnesota in a 1:30 p.m. quarterfinal Friday. The teams split the season series, each team winning on its home court.
The Hawkeyes put together a dominating first quarter with Megan Gustafson, the league’s player of the year, scoring just two points in the opening 10 minutes. Northwestern consistently played physical with Gustafson, often double- and even triple-teaming when she got the ball in the post.
“I’ve seen that all year,” Gustafson said. “I’m able to depend on my teammates and that is what makes us such a great team — if someone else is in foul trouble or not having a great night, someone else will step up.”
Makenzie Meyer stepped up, hitting three 3-pointers in the opening quarter. Kathleen Doyle made an open 3-pointer and converted a steal into a layup. Hannah Stewart came off the bench to score two inside buckets late in the quarter.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Iowa advanced to the tournament quarterfinals with Gustafson scoring 12 points on only eight shots, her lowest scoring output this season. Gustafson has failed to eclipse 20 points in only seven games this year, and a couple of those were due to not needing to play much in lopsided wins.
“I don’t remember the last time we won a game when Megan only had eight shots,” Bluder said. “It’s different and nice, but it’s good. It’s good for other people to understand they need to step up in those situations and that they can.”
Iowa continued a regular-season trend: good starts. That’s 12 games in a row where Iowa has led after the opening quarter, including leads of 21, 12, 9, 8, 10 and 10 points in its last six games.
“We were really emphasizing coming out punching in the first quarter,” said Meyer, who scored a team-high 13 points. “Our coaching staff has done that ever since February because before that I think we were a little shaky in the first quarter. That’s been a real emphasis.”
The Hawkeyes struggled offensively after the fantastic start, scoring just 19 points in the second and third quarters. After hitting four 3-pointers in the opening quarter, they wouldn’t hit any more until the fourth quarter when Sevillian hit two.
“I think we just got a little flustered on offense and we weren’t taking very good shots,” Meyer said. “They started speeding us up. Once we were able to calm down and were getting better shots, we were able to ease into it.”
While Iowa’s offense struggled at times, its defense never dipped. The 45 points were the fewest the Hawkeyes have allowed this season.