The Iowa women’s basketball team has made huge strides in recent years under coach Lisa Bluder.
The Hawkeyes have advanced to six consecutive NCAA Tournaments and have hit at least 20 wins in five of the last six years.
But when it comes to playing Big Ten rival Nebraska, the Iowa women just can’t seem to figure it out.
The Hawkeyes shot just 38 percent from the floor, got out-rebounded 44-30, turned it over 19 times and were dominated in the paint during a 76-61 loss in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Conference tournament on Friday morning at the Sears Centre.
“Congratulate Nebraska on a very strongly, good played, well played game,” Bluder said. “They are playing very well, and we wish them the best in the tournament.”
It was the third win over Iowa this season and the sixth straight win since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten Conference. Nebraska also beat Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals last year.
No. 21 Nebraska (23-7) is firmly into the NCAA Tournament but will play again today when the second-seeded Huskers face No. 3 seeded Purdue. Iowa finishes its regular season 20-12 but feels really good about its chances at another berth into the Big Dance.
“Absolutely,” Bluder said when asked if she thought Iowa was a lock for the tournament. “We have 20 wins; we have a 30 RPI, we have a strength of schedule of 20. In my opinion we are not even a bubble team.”
The Hawkeyes went 0-3 this year against Nebraska and has not beaten the Huskers since they joined the Big Ten Conference last season. Iowa also has lost two straight by more than 15 points.
“Well, there's no secret. We respect Iowa. We know they are a really good basketball team, got good players, well coached,” said Nebraska coach Connie Yori, who is a graduate of Ankeny High School. “You know, we have played a lot of close games with them. The last two have not been as close.
“You know, I don't know if there's any one thing I can identify other than, you know, we just know we have to play well. But you have to do that really throughout the season. It's fairly unusual to beat a team six times in a row as good as Iowa. We obviously feel good about that.”
Theairra Taylor and Melissa Dixon were the two bright spots in the game for Iowa. Taylor scored a career-high 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds and dished out four assists, while Dixon hit four 3-pointers and finished with 18 points.
Morgan Johnson was held to just eight points and five rebounds but she also had five blocks. She played in her 128th collegiate game, which is a new school record at Iowa.
Senior Jaime Printy also had an off night, scoring just four points. She did however move into third on the all-time scoring list at Iowa. Printy now has 1,822 points.
Iowa led 12-11 eight minutes into the game and continued to lead 25-24 with 5 minutes to go until halftime.
It was what happened in the final five minutes that may have cost Iowa the win though. Nebraska used a 9-0 run in the final minutes of the first half to take a commanding lead into halftime. The run eventually hit 13-0 as the Cornhuskers extended the lead to 38-24.
“You want to have momentum going into the half, and it was on our side,” Yori said. “And then we came out of half and did a lot of good things to extend the lead, as well. I thought Rachel [Theriot's] shot at the top of the key at the end of the half was a big one. They are all big ones.”
Another 7-0 spurt moments later helped Nebraska push the advantage to 46-29. That run include back-to-back 3-pointers from Jordan Hooper, who finished with a game-high 24 points and seven rebounds for Nebraska. The Huskers led by as many as 27 points in the second half and won their 23rd game of the season rather easily.
“I think it's our preparation. Our coach has done a great job of getting us ready for Iowa every single time,” Hooper said. “I think it's kind of a pride, too, wanting to beat Iowa, kind of a rivalry, right across the border and stuff like that. They are a lot of fun to play.”
Nebraska converted Iowa’s 19 turnovers into 27 points at the other end. The Huskers also shot 46 percent from the floor, hit 11-of-15 from the line and got 13 points, four rebounds and six assists from Lindsey Moore. Emily Cady also scored five points, dished out six assists and pulled down eight boards.
The latest bracketology from ESPN’s Charlie Creme has Iowa in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 10 seed.
Crème says Iowa could play its first two games of the tourney at home in the Spokane Region. The Hawkeyes’ first-round opponent, according to Creme, is No. 7 seeded Villanova.
Nebraska’s semifinal game with Purdue will tip off at 4 p.m. today. The game can be seen on the Big Ten Network.