Theairra Taylor was the hero for Iowa during its semifinal win in the Big Ten Tournament, scoring the game-clinching basket and leading the team in scoring.
Taylor spent a majority of the championship game on the bench in foul trouble, but she wasn’t alone. Three Iowa starters were in foul trouble for most of the game.
Foul trouble, rebounding problems, and offensive struggles turned a promising opportunity into a frustrating time for the Hawkeyes on Sunday.
Nebraska never trailed after the first two minutes of the game and held on for a 72-65 win over Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game on Sunday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Huskers out-rebounded the Hawkeyes, 58-27, including 26 on the offensive end. Nebraska made twice as many free throws (30) as Iowa attempted (14).
“We had to go through some tough situations with some foul trouble,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “We gave up way too many offensive rebounds. It’s hard to win a game with those type of numbers.”
Nebraska led by as many as 14 points in the first half. Starters Melissa Dixon and Taylor each had three fouls in the first half, while Bethany Doolittle had two fouls and was scoreless.
Taylor finished with five points and fouled out in 18 minutes.
Still, Iowa had chances late in the game.
Freshman Ally Disterhoft hit three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt, pulling the Hawkeyes to within a point, 57-56, with 7:13 remaining.
After the teams traded empty trips, Nebraska had a four-point possession with five minutes remaining. Huskers guard Tear’a Laudermill made two free throws after being fouled on a drive to the basket.
Bluder was given a technical after Laudermill made the first of two free throws. Rachel Theriot made the two technical free throws and Nebraska led 61-56.
The official told Bluder she received the technical for stomping her foot.
“I stomped my foot at my kids, it’s a habit that I do all of the time and I’ve never gotten a technical for stomping my foot, but today I did,” Bluder said. “I don’t think I’ve had one in 10 years and I can’t remember the last one that I’ve had. It seems like a crazy time to get one and I take full responsibility for that.”
Iowa’s Samantha Logic scored on a drive to the basket with 54 seconds remaining that made it a one-possession game, 66-63. Nebraska made all six of its free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
“To even be in the game when Theairra plays just 18 minutes is huge,” Logic said. “She’s been leading us this whole tournament. We battled and we could have definitely hung it up. To only lose by seven in that situation is pretty impressive by our team, I think.”
Nebraska only shot 31 percent from the field, but 26 offensive rebounds gave the Huskers multiple opportunities.
“I think we’ll find they were more aggressive than we were going for the ball on the weak side,” Bluder said. “At the same time we need to be stronger in that situation. There were a lot of long rebounds, in that situation and we need to go out and make contact.”
Theriot scored 19 of her game-high 24 points in the second half, and was named the tournament’s MVP.
“They were setting a lot more screens for her on the top of that zone,” Logic said. “Some of those were tough to get around. She was looking for her shot and a couple of those you’re going to let her take. She hit a couple of shots that you can live with her making.”
Disterhoft finished with 20 points, while Logic had 14 points and Dixon finished with 11.
Iowa will now await their NCAA tournament fate, which will be announced on March 17. The Hawkeyes have signature wins over Penn State, Purdue, Boston College, and USC.“I think we have an excellent resume, and I hate to predict seeds, but our RPI was about 23 or so coming into this week,” Bluder said. “I know that’s not the only factor, but it’s a significant factor, and it could have only gone up since we’ve been here. I think we deserve a high seed. I think we deserve a 4 or 5 seed and that’s really legitimate.”