By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Nothing comes easy in the Big Ten.
“We made it as hard as possible to end this game,” University of Iowa head women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder said after a 75-72 victory over Nebraska on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Megan Gustafson led the Hawkeyes, now 10-5 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten, with 22 points and nine rebounds. Her jumper with just over 2 minutes remaining gave Iowa its largest lead of the game at 75-62. And then it was white knuckle time.
The Cornhuskers roared back, and had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds but Hannah Whitish missed a 3-pointer in transition.
Iowa contributed to the drama by missing its last six free throws in the game’s final minute –- two each by Kathleen Doyle, Tania Davis and Chase Coley.
“Ironically, we had the people we wanted there,” Bluder said. “Thankfully we had built up enough of a lead that we could handle it. But we know we can’t do that in close contests.”
Ally Disterhoft added 16 points, Davis 11, and Doyle 10. Doyle, a freshman, originally committed to Nebraska but reopened her recruiting after a coaching change.
“I was trying not to focus on that part of it,” Doyle said. “I was focused on trying to get our first Big Ten win. That was definitely a weird feeling. I’m just glad that we won.”
Davis and Doyle also combined for 14 of Iowa’s 19 assists. Davis got many of hers with picture-perfect bounce passes to Gustafson as she cut to the basket. Both were on the Big Ten’s all-freshman team last season, and they make a potent one-two punch for the Hawkeyes.
“The beauty of it is we got to play together a lot last year,” Davis said. “And this year we’ve played a lot together. Our timing is great. I know where she wants the ball, when she wants the ball, and how she wants the ball.”
Gustafson also had nine rebounds, leaving her one shy of her ninth double-double of the season. The 6-foot-3 Gustafson made 9-of-12 shots from the field against Nebraska (4-10, 0-2 Big Ten). For the season, she has made 110-of-163 attempts (67.5 percent).
“We just kind of expect that out of her, that double-double and shooting 60 percent,” Bluder said. “Those are amazing numbers. She is a workhorse, an amazing kid. She works hard like that every day.”
Iowa was clinging to a 50-49 lead with just over 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter when freshman Makenzie Meyer’s six-point burst spearheaded an 8-0 run. Iowa had at least a two-possession lead the rest of the way until final seconds of the game.
“I have a lot of faith in Makenzie,” Bluder said. “I think she’s going to be a great player for us. Right now she’s not shooting the 3 as well as she’s capable of. But when she made that one it was like, oh, thank goodness.”
The Hawkeyes needed Saturday’s bounce-back after opening Big Ten play with a 70-65 loss at Illinois earlier in the week. Disterhoft struggled in that game, missing all eight of her 3-point attempts. But she made 4-of-9 attempts against Nebraska.
“I think the Illinois game, quite honestly, was an anomaly,” Disterhoft said. “At least I hope so. Heading into that (Illinois) game I had been shooting the 3-ball well. You take that night to dwell on it. You get up the next morning and get after it. You do have to have a shooter’s mentality. You have to think that every shot you’re going to take is going in.”
Iowa has another quick turnaround, returning to action at Penn State on Tuesday.
“We’re looking forward to that matchup, and building off this win,” Disterhoft said.