GREENSBORO, N.C. — Bench players hollered motivation as loud as they could, hoping to keep positive spirits alive despite the turmoil. Iowa’s coaching staff did the same. Those decked in black and gold rose to their feet at even the smallest sign of a surge.
On this night, it mattered little.
With a Final Four berth on the line Monday inside Greensboro Coliseum, No. 1 overall seed Baylor showcased why it’s a consistent giant in this sport. The Hawkeyes hung within range for about a quarter-and-a-half before succumbing to the Bears' dominance.
The final tally was an 85-53 loss, ending a riveting Iowa season on an unfortunate note.
"We didn't play like we should," guard Kathleen Doyle said. "Really disappointed with how we got started, and that puts you in a hole against a really great team. It's really hard to come back from that. So give them a lot of credit."
For all the Hawkeye chatter regarding confidence and belief, Monday illustrated the gap between Iowa and women’s basketball’s upper echelon. Baylor (35-1) shut down everything outside of Megan Gustafson. On the other end, a bevy of weapons put on an offensive clinic.
Kalani Brown rightfully headlines the Bears attack, but it was the surrounding pieces that inflicted the most damage. Fellow post Lauren Cox finished with a team-high 22 points and put Hannah Stewart in foul trouble early. Guards DiDi Richards and Chloe Jackson combined for 30 points on 14-for-26 shooting.
Iowa’s supporting cast couldn’t match the production. Splattered around Gustafson’s 23 points were rough nights from Doyle (3-for-11), Tania Davis (3-for-11), Makenzie Meyer (0-for-5) and Stewart (3-for-10). The Hawkeyes (29-7) finished 18-for-56 (32 percent) — by far their worst shooting percentage of the year.
"They did a great job taking away our 3-point opportunities," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "Really not letting us get hot from outside — and we needed to. We needed to get hot from outside.
"But we just really didn't have a lot of great looks. I thought we could beat kids off the dribble-drive a little bit more than we did, but they were able to contain us. So give credit to them."
After constructing a 41-27 intermission lead, Baylor erased any chance of a Hawkeye miracle with a riveting second-half start. The Bears opened the third quarter with 6-for-9 shooting, quickly sticking Iowa in a 55-35 hole. At most, it was a 32-point Baylor stranglehold.
Iowa’s lone solace came late in the fourth, when Gustafson reached 1,000 points on the season for the fourth season in a row. She’s only the fourth athlete in women's basketball history to reach such a milestone.
“So many people expected us to do awesome things, and I think we exceeded even what they thought we could do," Gustafson said "... I’m just so thankful to have this kind of season to end it all.”
From the jump, Iowa was going to need a miracle to pull off a stunner. Forty flawless minutes and then some was the only route to jubilation. But the Hawkeyes didn't have near enough firepower to manage it.
Emotion lingered inside the Iowa locker room, as expected. Seniors let it all hang out while trying to process the end. Even those who'll return next season didn't want to let this team fade into the record books. Postseason basketball is cruel in that way, abruptly ending magical rides with little warning.
Perspective slowly emerged from demoralization. For months, Iowa shouldered hefty goals as it tried to cement a memorable season. It's hard to argue those expectations weren't met.
Even if Monday's affair turned lopsided.
"Baylor's obviously a very tough team — No. 1 team in the country — and we had our work cut out for us. We had to play a full 40," said Davis, who notched 1,000 career points in the loss. "But the season that we've had has definitely been magical, and it's something I'll remember for the rest of my life.
"It's a great group of women in this locker room. I would rather not play with anyone else."
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.