By DARREN MILLER
RIVIERA MAYA, Mexico — The University of Iowa women’s basketball team opened the Cancun Challenge with a 78-65 setback against No. 9 UCLA on Thursday evening in the Hard Rock Hotel.
UCLA improved to 4-1 overall and the Hawkeyes fell to 4-2.
Senior Ally Disterhoft led four Iowa players in double figure scoring with 16 points and six rebounds. Sophomore Megan Gustafson made 7-of-9 field goals and scored 15 points with a team-high seven rebounds. Sophomores Tania Davis and Hannah Stewart added 13 and 10 points. Davis made 3-of-5 3-point field goals with four assists and Stewart pulled down six rebounds.
The Hawkeyes shot a season-low 39.3-percent from the field (24-of-61) and made just 10-of-30 in the second half. Still, Iowa was down by only five points (56-51) with a minute left in the third quarter.
“It shows we can compete with anybody,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said. “We’re right there and have an opportunity to win the game. UCLA is a very good basketball team and has all the makings of a Final Four team and we competed with them. If we knock down some shots, take care of the ball better — there is always that ‘what if?'”
Bluder was surprised that UCLA’s zone defense disrupted the Hawkeyes as much as it did.
“We weren’t able to get the ball inside,” Bluder said.
Davis sank a 3-point field goal with two seconds left in the first quarter to tie the score at 22. The Hawkeyes held leads of 7-2 and 12-5 during the first five minutes.
“We have to have more people putting the ball in the hole from the outside,” Bluder said. “Tania was our best outside shooter, but we need more people contributing from outside.”
The Hawkeyes were 6-of-25 from 3-point range. Only Davis made more than one field goal from distance.
UCLA led at halftime, 42-38. Three Iowa players — Davis (11 points), Stewart (10), and Disterhoft (10) scored in double figures. Stewart was 5-for-5 from the field.
“Hannah Stewart came in and did a good job for us,” Bluder said.
The Hawkeyes shot 45.2 percent from the field (14-of-31) in the first half and made 4-of-10 3-point attempts. UCLA held a 15-4 advantage in points off turnovers (the Bruins finished the game with a 22-9 edge).
Monique Billings paced UCLA with 27 points. She was 9-of-9 from the free throw line.
Iowa returns to action Friday to face James Madison with an 8 p.m. (CT) tip. The Dukes improved to 3-2 on the season after an 83-53 win over Idaho State on Thursday in the Cancun Challenge.