Nov. 19, 2015
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Overtime was the easy part for the No. 23 University of Iowa women’s basketball team Thursday. Getting there was a bit more problematic.
Hawkeye sophomore Whitney Jennings made a 3-point field goal with 5.6 seconds left in regulation to tie Western Illinois, 78-78, on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa missed its other 10 attempts from long range in the second half, but once in overtime, the Hawkeyes (3-0 overall) rolled to a 96-81 victory — their 21st straight at home.
“It is a situation we worked on a lot in practice leading up to this game,” Jennings said of the game-tying trey. “Lex (junior Alexa Kastanek) caught it at the top of the key, she noticed that she didn’t have the shot, so she put it on the floor, drew the defense, and kicked it to me. I’m thankful I was able to hit it.”
Western Illinois (2-1) led 70-65 with 6 minutes remaining. The Leathernecks were on top, 77-75, with 11 seconds left when freshman Taylor Higginbotham went to the line to shoot two. Higginbotham, who averaged 21 points during her first two games, made the first, but missed the second, setting up the heroics by Jennings.
“After Whitney hit that shot there was no doubt in our minds that we were going to win that game,” said UI junior Ally Disterhoft, who scored 21 points (15 in the first half). “Just having that momentum — we huddled up after coach J (associate head coach Jan Jensen) brought us in and gave us a little talk. Looking at our teammates you could tell everyone was confident we were going to pull it out. At no point did we have doubts that we were not going to win that game.”
UI freshman Megan Gustafson made her first seven field goal attempts and finished with a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds. She added six offensive rebounds and three blocked shots. Disterhoft scored 21 points, Kastanek and sophomore Chase Coley added 13 apiece, and Jennings finished with 10. Gustafson and senior Kali Peschel scored five points in overtime; Peschel grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
The inside game of Coley and Gustafson combined to make 16-of-23 from the field; Iowa scored 60 points in the paint compared to 24 by Western Illinois.
“I was telling the players to go back to the well,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said. “If something is working, keep going back to that and we got away from that in the third quarter.”
Meanwhile, the Leathernecks were heating up from outside. They made 5-of-7 from 3-point range in the third quarter (Iowa was 0-for-6) to reduce a 15-point Hawkeye lead to 1 heading into the final 10 minutes. Western Illinois added three more 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, but it was Jennings who sank the most significant one.
Iowa shot 46 percent from the field for the game (38-of-83), and 79 percent from the line (15-of-19). The Hawkeyes dished off 24 assists — six by Jennings and five by Kastanek, who also had five steals.
At the start of the game, Iowa went from zero to two points in 4 minutes, 34 seconds, then accelerated rather quickly, closing the first quarter on a 21-5 run. Gustafson had a lot to do with that, scoring 10 points in six minutes on 5-of-5 shooting from the field.
Disterhoft and Gustafson combined for 29 of the Hawkeyes’ 49 points in the first half. Disterhoft had 15 points (6-of-9 from the field, 3-of-4 from the line) with three assists and a block in 15 minutes; Gustafson scored 14 points on 7-of-7 shooting with two blocks in 11 minutes.
Iowa’s 30-10 advantage in paint points was aided by 56-percent shooting from the field (19-of-34). Kastanek scored eight points and made 2-of-5 from 3-point range. The Hawkeyes held a 22-21 edge in rebounding, but the Leathernecks grabbed 10 offensive boards.
Western Illinois cut Iowa’s lead to 1 on two occasions in the third quarter after shooting 59 percent from the field (10-of-17) during that 10-minute span. The Leathernecks took the lead 68-65 after back-to-back 3-point field goals by Taylor McClintock and Michelle Farrow.
Three Western Illinois players scored 14 points apiece: Farrow, Higginbotham, and Jasmine Patrick. Patrick scored seven straight fourth-quarter points to give the Leathernecks a 77-73 advantage with 1:26 to play.
Iowa plays its next five games on the road beginning at Northern Iowa on Sunday at 2 p.m. (CT). The Hawkeyes return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Dec. 6 against Robert Morris.
“It’s a reminder that we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Bluder said. “We are going to have to ready to play from the get-go up at the McLeod Center (against Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls). It’s a terrific environment. I know there will be a lot of black and gold there and we’re thrilled about that. But it’s a tough place to play.”