CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder screamed, “Not to 13!” as a loose ball trickled out to No. 13 Petra Holesinksa on the perimeter. Illinois’ sharpshooter quickly loosed off a shot.
The Illini took a 63-61 lead, with just over a minute and a half left, and never trailed again in a 70-65 upset win over the Hawkeyes to open Big Ten play.
Holesinka finished with 16, and Alex Wittinger and Brandi Beasley combined for 30. Iowa had four players in double figures — Megan Gustafson (21), Christina Buttenham (12), Ally Disterhoft (11) and Kathleen Doyle (12) — but the bench scored just nine, and Tania Davis didn't score at all.
"We didn’t really come out with the defensive intensity that we needed and that really lasted throughout the first half," Gustafson said. " ... It’s the beginning of the season. It’s all up from here. We’ve just got to work hard each game."
Iowa tied a season-worst with 23 turnovers, which Illinois converted to 24 points. The Hawkeyes' first opponent to force 23 turnovers? Notre Dame. As in the No. 2 team in the country, Notre Dame. You could argue the Fighting Irish probably forced most of those 23.
The Illini? They entered Wednesday forcing only about 14 cough-ups per game, so this was more a case of Iowa beating Iowa.
"I don’t think you can blame it on any single factor," Disterhoft said. "It was a lot of things. Not consistently getting stops on defense, the turnovers, poor 3-point shooting. You definitely can’t blame it on the youth by any means. We could’ve executed a lot better in a lot of situations."
Considering all the things that went wrong for Iowa in the first half, it was lucky to be that close at the end.
One: Iowa had as many turnovers as it did made shots — 11. Illinois had just three turnovers to its 14 buckets after the first two periods.
Two: Iowa was shooting 38 percent (11-for-29), 29 percent from 3 (4-for-14).
Three: Iowa trailed for more than 17 minutes and Diserthoft had four points on 1-of-5 shooting.
And yet, the Hawkeyes still just trailed 37-32. The basketball gods showed favor to Iowa for one half. But that good favor ran out as the basketball found Holesinksa with 1:35 left.
Illinois mixed up its defense all 40 minutes. Sometimes it ran a 3-2, then a 2-3 and a 2-2-1. UMass was the last team Iowa played that ran a zone-first defense, and Iowa picked apart the Minutewomen, 71-30, with nine made 3-pointers.
Iowa had open long-range looks early and often against the shooter-friendly zone defense Wednesday, but couldn’t buy a basket. It finished 7-for-28 from beyond the arc.
The Hawkeyes will host Nebraska at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Bain covers Hawkeyes' basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.