Iowa shows extra element in defining win over Nebraska
At her weekly press conference last Tuesday Lisa Bluder did what she has done often this season, what the long-time Iowa head coach always enjoys doing, she praised her team.
What had Bluder marveling last week was Iowa's ability to find different ways to win games.
In in their latest, and perhaps biggest, victory of the season on Monday, the Hawkeyes came up with yet another way to win.
No. 20 Iowa rallied from a 10-point second-half hole for a 78-72 overtime win over No. 15 Nebraska, its first win over the Cornhuskers in nine tries as a Big Ten opponent.
Iowa improved to 16-3 overall and 7-1 in Big Ten play, the Hawkeyes' best conference start ever under Bluder and the team's best since the 1995-1996 season.
With the win, Iowa took a two-game lead over both Nebraska and Minnesota in the Big Ten standings. The Hawkeyes are just one game behind league-leading Maryland (17-2, 8-0).
One game from the halfway point of the conference season, Monday's win stamped the Hawkeyes as legitimate conference-title contenders.
"Before coming out to the game, coach Bluder was talking about (how), 'it's going to be so fun when we win, to come back in the locker room and celebrate together,' " Ally Disterhoft said. "And to be able to do that after that big of a win in overtime was really special for everyone."
Monday's win also showed another level of versatility for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa has won two games this season by two points. The first was the 100-98 thriller against Drake. The other? 52-50 at Michigan State.
Last Thursday in a win over Michigan, Iowa showed it could lead wire-to-wire and put a team away. Monday it showed it could come from behind.
In what has already been a season full of big wins, Monday's victory over the Cornhuskers is at the top of that list not just for what it means in the standings, but for the way Iowa did it.
Nebraska, winners of five in a row coming in, scored the game's first eight points and led 10-1.
Iowa trailed by as many as 10 points in the second half and by eight with just more than nine minutes remaining.
The Hawkeyes trailed for 36 minutes against the Cornhuskers and faced deficits of 63-61 and 65-63 in overtime.
Iowa just kept coming back.
"We came in at half, and everybody just came together and said, 'look, our shots haven't been falling, we can't control that, but we can control our rebounding in the second half,' " Disterhoft said.
To say that Iowa overcame deficits to win only tells half the story.
The Hawkeyes came back from much more than that.
Iowa shot 26 percent from the field in the first half.
Bethany Doolittle and Disterhoft, who combine to average more than 26 points and 12 rebounds per game, had zero points and three rebounds during the first half.
Doolittle played only four first-half minutes due to a couple of early fouls while Disterhoft missed all five of her first-half shot attempts.
Rather than disappear after their forgettable first half, the duo shined brightest with the game on the line.
Doolittle scored six consecutive points in overtime to give Iowa a 69-65 lead it would never give up.
Disterhoft hit 7-of-10 field goals and had 20 points and 10 rebounds after halftime.
"I think you have to think that every shot is going in all the time, even if you've had a lot of misses in the past," Disterhoft said. "But like we've all talked about, it's really about the team."
During a memorable season teams often have a game they look back on as a defining moment.
The Hawkeyes seem to produce one of those a week.
First was a road win at then-No. 16 Rutgers.
Then the win at Michigan State, in which the Hawkeyes didn't score a field goal in the final 8:59 and outrebounded the second-highest rebounding team in the Big Ten.
Monday, Iowa showed it could compete with the best.
Connie Yori's team, which knocked off Duke earlier this season, features one of the league's best players in junior Rachel Theriot.
This is no flash in the pan program, the Cornhuskers have been a consistent top-20 team since joining the league.
"Nebraska is a great team, they're well coached, they have great balance, they've got speed," Bluder said. "That's what makes this win feel so good because we beat a very, very good basketball team and one we haven't beaten for a while. That makes it pretty special."
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.