By Adam Hensley
INDIANAPOLIS — It came down to the wire, but Iowa’s run in the Big Ten Tournament concluded March 2 in a 90-89 heartbreaker to Minnesota.
Megan Gustafson had a field day in the paint, scoring a career-high 48 points. Her point total was also an Iowa and Big Ten Tournament record.
Records don’t win games, however.
The Hawkeyes had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but a discombobulated possession silenced any hopes for a win at the horn.
“We were hoping to get a fast break down the court,” guard Makenzie Meyer said. “Kathleen [Doyle] did a really good job of getting past her defender. We were trying to get the ball to Megan if we had the opportunity. She was covered pretty heavily. Minnesota just had a good defensive stop.”
Minnesota could not contain Gustafson for 39:50 of the game. Those 10 seconds it did, however, prove to be the game-changer.
On Iowa’s final possession, Gustafson did not touch the ball.
Instead, Amanda Ollinger, who finished the game with more turnovers than points (2 points, 3 turnovers), put up the final shot. She looked for Gustafson, but Minnesota did just what it needed to do to win — it kept the ball out of her hands.
Ollinger’s shot wasn’t close.
But Iowa had plenty of opportunities to close out the game; Ollinger’s shot isn’t the reason Iowa lost.
Minnesota discovered 3-point life in the final quarter, making four of their seven attempts from deep, equaling its 3-point total in the first three quarters combined. The Gophers also shot the ball at a 52.9 percent rate in the fourth quarter.
Destiny Pitts, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, also found her stride in the final measure.
“Yeah, we had some miscommunication at the end and let her open for too many 3s,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “We know [Pitts is] a really good 3-point shooter, and she didn’t hit them early, but you know, a shooter is going to keep shooting, and they are going to make them eventually. Statistics will play out for you, but unfortunately, we didn’t get those covered as well as we needed to.”
Pitts was just one of four Gophers who scored in double figures. Carlie Wagner scored 29 for Minnesota, Kenisha Bell added 26, and Gavia Hubbard rounded out the quartet.
Iowa shot a better percentage in the fourth quarter though, making 60 percent of its shots, but it wasn’t enough to come away with a victory.
For Iowa, Meyer was the only other Hawkeye besides Gustafson to reach double figures in the scoring column (13 points). When Minnesota hit Gustafson with double and triple teams, Meyer was able to capitalize.
But Iowa’s best offensive work came in the half-court game, as the guards and forwards fed Gustafson the ball on the block.
Minnesota thrived in transition, feeling right at home.
“I think we play really well in the fast-paced game; obviously, we score well in transition,” Meyer said. “There were times today that we started playing to Minnesota’s game a little bit more, and that’s where turnovers came.”
Iowa turned the ball over 19 times; Minnesota had 7.
Now, Iowa has some time before it finds out exactly what its next move will be, most likely in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes are currently a No. 6 seed in Charlie Creme’s latest bracketology.
It’s a change from last season, where the Hawkeyes’ early exit in the conference tournament combined with an average season resulted in a run in the NIT.
“It’s a lot better than last year’s situation,” Gustafson said. “We do know that pretty much, we’re going to be in the NCAA Tournament, which is really nice. I’ve never able to be in an NCAA Tournament, so I’m really excited about that.”