By Ryan Gregory | @Ryan_Gregory_
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – Despite a record-setting performance by Iowa’s Megan Gustafson, the fifth-seeded Hawkeyes fell to fourth-seeded Minnesota, 90-89, in a quarterfinal of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Gustafson, Iowa’s 6-foot, 3-inch junior center, scored 48 points, the most by any player – male or female – in Big Ten tournament history. The total was also an Iowa school record and the fifth-highest for a player in any Big Ten women’s game.
The Golden Gophers, 23-7, will meet regular-season champion Ohio State in a semifinal on Saturday evening. Minnesota will make its first semifinal appearance since 2005.
Minnesota secured the victory thanks to a breakneck tempo. The Gophers outscored Iowa on fast break points, 17-2, including an advantage of 11-0 in the second half. The Gophers made 12 of 25 shots in the first quarter on the way to a 25-17 lead. Of those 25 first-quarter points, 22 were scored in the paint area, including slashing drives by guards Kenisha Bell and Carlie Wagner. Post play kept the Gophers afloat, because perimeter shooting was not an option for Minnesota.
Minnesota shot 12 3-point shots in the first half and made just one. Wagner, a 41 percent 3-point shooter, made one of her six deep attempts. Destiny Pitts, a 37 percent shooter from 3-point range, missed all three of her first half attempts.
“It wasn’t falling in the first half for us,” said Wagner. “That was OK because we were finding other ways to get to the basket and score. That picked up the slack in the offensive area.”
Poor perimeter shooting aside, the Golden Gophers were good enough inside to build a 12-point cushion during the second quarter. Gustafson decided then that she had had enough. The Hawkeyes, 24-7, mounted a 12-0 run, nine of which came courtesy of the Big Ten Player of the Year. When the halftime buzzer sounded, Iowa had trimmed the lead to three.
Early in the second half, the Golden Gophers were settling for deep jumpers instead of their post scores, and the decreased production opened the door for another Gustafson run. She rattled off six in a row by herself. Fueled by continued misses from deep by Pitts, Iowa hung 11 on Minnesota to take a two-point lead into the fourth quarter.
“I just gotta keep shooting,” Pitts said she told herself. “The seniors told me I’m not a freshman no more. I have to go out and keep shooting and make an impact.”
Pitts, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, was on the bench to begin the fourth quarter, and understandably so.
Within a span of 34 seconds late in the third quarter, Pitts committed a foul, missed a 3-point shot and committed a traveling violation. She came out of the game with 1:01 to go in the quarter. At that point, Pitts had made a single 3-point shot in 11 attempts from beyond the line.
But she was back in the game with 11 seconds to go in the period. Her 11 fourth-quarter points, on 4-for-6 shooting, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range, helped the Gophers match Gustafson’s brilliance. Pitts finished with 14 points and a Big Ten Tournament record for 3-point shot attempts in a game with 15. Wagner, who finished with 27 points, and Bell, who finished with 26, poured in baskets alongside Pitts to keep Minnesota in the game, which came down to the final possession. Iowa sophomore Amanda Ollinger was forced into an awkward 3-point elbow shot which fell well short of the basket as the game ended.
“We work on this in practice,” said Minnesota sophomore Gadiva Hubbard, who finished with 15 points. “(We) work on situations where we have to play defense for five seconds, 10 seconds at the end of a game, and we just had to focus on that, and that was what won us the game.”