By DARREN MILLER
INDIANAPOLIS — It’s wasn’t a matter of not shooting well enough, it was a matter of not shooting enough.
The University of Iowa women’s basketball team was eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday after falling to Northwestern, 78-73, in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Hawkeyes shot 47.5 percent from the field, but attempted seven fewer shots than Northwestern.
Iowa was 28-of-59 from the field, the Wildcats were 30-of-66 (45.5 percent).
“We shot the ball well enough to win the game, but we didn’t have enough opportunities,” Iowa had coach Lisa Bluder said.
The loss essentially seals Iowa’s postseason fate. With a record of 17-13, the WNIT appears the logical destination for a second straight year.
“We have to look at the (W)NIT as an opportunity,” Bluder said. “Last year we didn’t embrace playing in the (W)NIT; we have to learn from that. Hopefully we’ll play some games at home and do a good job with our young team, helping them develop and learn for the future.”
Last season Iowa hosted Ball State in the first round of the WNIT and lost, 77-72.
Hawkeye sophomore Megan Gustafson scored a career-high 27 points Thursday by making 11-of-18 field goals and 5-of-5 free throws. She also had six rebounds and two blocked shots. Despite those impressive numbers, they were overshadowed by Northwestern senior Nia Coffey. Coffey scored 34 points on 15-of-26 shooting with eight rebounds and three steals.
“Too much Nia Coffey, not enough boxing out,” Bluder said.
Northwestern had nine more rebounds than Iowa (39-30) and eight more offensive rebounds (18-10). The Hawkeyes forced 16 turnovers, but committed 17.
Gustafson’s point total gives her 550 this season, the most ever by a sophomore Hawkeye. Meanwhile, senior Ally Disterhoft scored 18 points — 11 in the first half — and has 2,040 for her career, 19 from tying the school record of 2,059 by Cindy Haugejorde (1976-80).
Disterhoft made 7-of-12 field goals and handed out five assists, sharing team-high honors with senior Alexa Kastanek. Freshman Makenzie Meyer scored 10 points and freshman Kathleen Doyle added nine.
Iowa led 21-16 with 9:15 left before halftime, but the Wildcats closed on a 25-11 run to lead by nine at the break, 41-32. Northwestern was up 12 (60-48) with 1:32 left in the third quarter, but Iowa stormed back and went ahead 69-68 on Doyle’s layup with 3:45 remaining in the game.
“We battled back in the third quarter, that was nice to see,” Bluder said. “We were down 12 midway through the third quarter and to have a lead 10 minutes later is pretty good.”
Thursday’s result comes exactly two weeks after Iowa prevailed over the Wildcats, 78-59, in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (It was Northwestern’s third road game in five days).
“It is a tough loss when you beat somebody by 20 points two weeks ago and you come out and you lose,” Bluder said. “It’s a hard pill to swallow.”
Northwestern improves to 20-10. Lauren Douglas (17) and Christen Inman (11) joined Coffey in double figures for the Wildcats.
The field for the WNIT will be announced March 13 and first round games begin March 15. The championship is April 1.