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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — A hot pink start propelled the University of Iowa women’s basketball team to a 78-59 win over Northwestern in its annual Pink Game on Thursday in front of 4,167 on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes (16-10 overall, 7-6 Big Ten) wore pink shoes and white uniforms with pink letters, numbers, and trim in support of breast cancer awareness.
Iowa raced to a 15-4 lead less than five minutes in to the game and although Northwestern (17-9, 6-7) rallied to within 16-15 early in the second quarter, the Hawkeyes extended the advantage to 12 at halftime (41-29). They never looked back in the second half.
It epitomized a team victory: Iowa led by 13 with less than nine minutes to play and no Hawkeye had scored in double figures.
“We had great production off the bench,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “(Alexa Kastanek) came in and did a great job. Hannah Stewart came in and did a great job. Amanda (Ollinger) got six rebounds in her (11) minutes. We had contributions from so many different people.”
Bluder was creative with playing time since junior Christina Buttenham and freshman Bre Cera were unavailable because of concussions. That left a season-high 18 minutes for Kastanek, a senior, and 11 minutes for Ollinger, a freshman. It is the third straight game of double-digit minutes for Kastanek, a feat she hasn’t enjoyed since November.
“I have always played whatever the team needs,” Kastanek said. “I come in and give the minutes I can, knowing I am playing my hardest and these will be some of the last games I ever play. I am using that to my advantage, having fun and making sure my team stays light-hearted, too.”
Ollinger entered the game with a combined five minutes of playing time in 12 Big Ten games. She played 11 minutes against Northwestern, pulling down six rebounds and scoring five points.
“Amanda has practiced hard all year,” Bluder said. “With Bre and Christina out, it forced the hand on a lot of things, but she has earned (the playing time). She went out and played confidently; she feels she deserves it and you want kids feeling that way.”
Ollinger felt it from distance with 2:53 left in the third quarter. Her successful 3-point attempt gave Iowa a 56-41 lead, its largest at the time. (They led by 21 twice in the fourth quarter).
It was the first start of the season (and 32nd of her career) for Chase Coley, who responded with nine points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
“I had fun,” Coley said. “Bre and Christina are great rebounders and they get after it with hustle. I tried to go out and fill that spot that we were missing. I focused on rebounding.”
Sophomore Megan Gustafson led Iowa with 17 points; she also had eight rebounds and two blocked shots. Disterhoft scored seven points in the first quarter, nine at halftime, and 14 for the game. Freshman Makenzie Meyer added 10 points, while Coley (nine), Kastanek (eight), freshman Kathleen Doyle (eight), sophomore Hannah Stewart (seven), and Ollinger (five) also entered the scoring column.
Doyle tied a career-high with seven assists; Doyle and Ollinger set career-highs with seven and six rebounds, respectively.
Iowa was 22-of-26 from the free throw line, attempting 15 more than the Wildcats, who have lost four straight games.
Nia Coffey led Northwestern with 21 points; Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah grabbed eight rebounds in eight minutes.
The Hawkeyes return to action Sunday when they play Purdue (16-11, 7-6) in West Lafayette, Indiana. Tip-off is set for 11 a.m. (CT). That is followed by a game at Indiana on Feb. 22.
“We go on the road now for two games in a row, so that was really important that we held home court advantage (against Northwestern),” Bluder said. “Purdue is always a tough place to play. We did win there a couple years ago, and ironically, it was during the pink game, and that’s what we’ll be playing again Sunday.”