By DARREN MILLER
INDIANAPOLIS — You have to go back to January to find a time when the University of Iowa women’s basketball team trailed after the first quarter.
Or lost a game.
The Hawkeyes (24-6 overall) raced to a 22-1 lead after the first quarter Thursday and eliminated Northwestern (12-20) from the Big Ten Tournament, 55-45, inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Iowa advances to a quarterfinal matchup against Minnesota (22-7) on Friday at approximately 1:30 p.m. (CT).
“That was pretty amazing and thank goodness for that first quarter and that good start because we needed all of that to finish this game,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said.
The win is Iowa’s eighth in a row, dating back to Jan. 28 against Nebraska, which is also the last time the Hawkeyes didn’t hold an upper hand after 10 minutes.
It wasn’t a typical box score for Iowa, which had just two players score in double figures. Sophomore Makenzie Meyer led the way with 13 points and three 3-point field goals, junior Megan Gustafson scored 12 points, nine rebounds, and four blocked shots.
“Getting off to a fast start is something we have emphasized all February and now into March,” Meyer said. “Clearly that was important in the end.”
Meyer was 3-of-4 from 3-point in the first quarter, scoring nine points. Meanwhile, Northwestern was 0-of-15 from the field.
While Meyer was hot early, freshman Alexis Sevillian came on strong in the fourth quarter. She was 2-of-4 from the field (2-of-2 from distance) and 3-of-4 from the line for nine points over the final 10 minutes.
“Makenzie got us going early, Lexi got us going late,” Bluder said. “It was nice both dropped 3s for us when we needed them and Lexi made free throws as well.”
What was Iowa-esque about this victory was the assist-to-field goal ratio. The Hawkeyes made 21 field goals on 18 assists. Sophomore Kathleen Doyle had the bulk of those with seven.
Iowa attempted just 49 field goals in the game, making 21 (42.9 percent). Defensively, the Hawkeyes limited Northwestern to 27.4-percent shooting (17 of 62).
Sevillian and Doyle finished with nine points apiece and junior Hannah Stewart added eight. Stewart made all three of her field goal attempts in the first quarter for six points.
Northwestern was led by Lindsey Pulliam with 17 points and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah with 17 rebounds.
QUOTING COACH BLUDER
Iowa called timeout with 3:55 remaining while holding a 47-42 lead. The Hawkeyes closed on an 8-3 run.
“It’s kind of a gut-check some times,” Bluder said. “They understand what they have to do — we scored after that timeout and it was a good possession to get momentum back in our favor. It was OK, let’s lock down — it wasn’t anything we changed defensively — it was a point of, we have four minutes to win this game.”
You have to go back a ways for when Iowa won by scoring 55-or-fewer points in a game. The Hawkeyes defeated Wisconsin, 56-46, on Dec. 28, but the last time they won a game scoring fewer than 55 points was Jan. 18, 2015, at Michigan State (52-50).
Iowa improved to 23-21 all-time on Big Ten Tournament games.
It will be the rubber match between the Hawkeyes and Golden Gophers. Both teams tied for third in the regular-season standings with 11-5 records in league play. Minnesota won, 77-72, on Jan. 21 in Minneapolis, Iowa won, 92-84, on Feb. 4 in Iowa City.