Iowa senior Theairra Taylor didn't have to come back to the Iowa women's basketball team after suffering two unfortunate knee injuries.
She could have quit and hung up her basketball shoes and not many people would have blamed her.
But that's not the path Taylor took. She refused to quit, came back for her final two seasons of eligibility and her game-winning layup in the final minutes of Saturday's Big Ten Conference Women's Tournament has the 23rd ranked Hawkeyes just one game away from their first conference tournament title since 2001.
Taylor’s acrobatic lay in with the shot clock approaching zero and the game clock sitting at 1:32 gave the Iowa women’s basketball team the lead and Melissa Dixon’s two free throws in the final second pushed the Iowa to another win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Taylor finished with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting and Dixon chipped in 16 points with four 3-pointers and added four assists as the Hawkeyes are now 3-for-3 in the tournament with a 77-73 win over Ohio State.
Freshman Ally Disterhoft scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds and Bethany Doolittle also put in 18 points to help push Iowa to its sixth straight win and 12th in the Hawkeyes’ last 14 games.
“I am thrilled for our team,” said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. “Ohio State has played extremely well lately. I thought our kids were really mentally tough down the stretch and (Taylor’s) basket was incredible. I think she just willed that thing in.”
Iowa never trailed in improving to 26-7 on the season. The Hawkeyes led by as many as 11 early in the second half and once again had to fight through some adversity as the Buckeyes made a late run to nearly score a come-from-behind victory.
Iowa led by eight with 4:34 to go, but Ohio State scored the next eight points to even things up with 2:02 to play. The Buckeyes though went scoreless the rest of the way as Taylor’s drive to the hoop and bucket through three Ohio State defenders proved to be the difference as the Hawkeyes will now face Nebraska in today’s Big Ten tournament championship game.
“I saw the opening, but I didn’t know if I had the touch to kiss it off the glass the right way, but luckily I did,” said Taylor.
Iowa will be in the conference tournament championship game for the first time since 2010 and for the fourth time overall. The Hawkeyes also completed a three-game sweep of Ohio State on the season and ended an 0-3 streak against the Buckeyes in the tournament.
Disterhoft, Dixon, Taylor and Doolittle accounted for 73 of Iowa’s 77 points. Claire Till scored three and point guard Samantha Logic, the team’s leading scorer, had just one point but dished out nine assists in the victory.
“Sam has never been about it being about herself,” said Bluder. “She had nine assists and one turnover today. She does whatever it takes for our team to win the game. She didn’t have her shots today so she didn’t force, but she is our floor general and our leader.”
Ameryst Alston finished with 20 points for the Buckeyes, who ended their season at 17-18. The Buckeyes won the rebounding battle 34-31, hit 52 percent from the floor and scored 46 of their 73 points in the paint, but lost because of 14 turnovers and a 3-of 16 performance from 3-point range.
On the flip side, Iowa had just 11 miscues and buried 8-of-23 from deep, including 4-of-10 from Dixon and 3-of-6 from Taylor.
“It was a really hard fought game,” said Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff. “I think both teams played well and I am really proud of our players and the effort they put forth today and through this whole tournament.”
Martina Ellerbe added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Buckeyes, while Darryce Moore chipped in 15 points and seven boards.
The fifth-seeded Hawkeyes’ attempt to become the first-ever women’s Big Ten Conference team to win four games in four days at the conference tournament concludes today when they take on third-seeded Nebraska at noon.
Iowa hasn't beaten Nebraska since the Huskers joined the Big Ten Conference. The Huskers advanced to the title game following an 86-58 win over second-seeded and 19th ranked Michigan State.