Baylor overwhelms Iowa in Sweet 16 showdown
Iowa braced for a big game from Baylor sophomore leading scorer Nina Davis in Friday's NCAA Tournament regional semifinal.
The Big 12 player of the year had her moments, and 20 points on Friday. But it was Davis' paint partner, senior Sune Agbuke, who proved too much for Iowa to handle.
Agbuke poured in a career-high 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as Oklahoma City Region No. 2 seed Baylor returned to the Elite Eight with an 81-66 win over third-seeded Iowa at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"You know Davis is going to get hers, we knew that," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "But you really need to keep track of everybody else, and (Agbuke) really did very, very well today. She hit the 15-foot shot like it was a layup today for her."
Agbuke led three Baylor players in double figures, as the Lady Bears (33-3) moved on to face top-seeded Notre Dame (34-2) in Sunday's regional final.
Freshman Kristy Wallace scored 17 points off the bench, and Niya Johnson had 10 points and 16 assists as Baylor returned to the final eight for the second straight season and the fifth time in the past six years.
"They were really crowding down on Nina (Davis), and I think that was their gameplan: to keep her from getting the ball. And I was wide open," Agbuke said. "My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball, and it was going in."
Iowa got a triple-double from senior Samantha Logic, who finished with 13 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. But that career-ending effort couldn't life the Hawkeyes to their first regional final since 1993.
Baylor outrebounded Iowa 45-35 and outscored the Hawkeyes 16-3 at the foul line while winning its seventh straight game.
Playing in its first Sweet 16 since 1996, Iowa (26-8) fell into an early 8-0 hole and never fully recovered.
Iowa shot 40 percent on Friday, and its 66 points was its lowest total in a 16-game stretch, dating to a 52-50 win over Michigan State on Jan. 18.
"We knew we had to play one of our best games, and we didn't do that today," Iowa senior Melissa Dixon said. "I think that it would be different if we played a little better, but they are a great team."
The Hawkeyes closed the first-half gap to one on three occasions, but each time Baylor responded with a basket. Baylor took its biggest lead of the first half at 36-23 with 4:35 left before halftime on a twisting layup by Davis.
Iowa responded with an 11-0 run that spanned nearly three minutes, cutting the lead to 36-34 with 1:02 to go. Bethany Doolittle had six points during the spurt, capped by a Logic layup.
"We were finally making our run, and we were getting stops and we were able to push it in transition," Dixon said.
Baylor responded again, this time with the final six points of the half, on back-to-back 3-pointers by Kristy Wallace and Alexis Prince for a 42-34 advantage at the break.
"That was big going from a one-possession game to a three-possession game, pretty much," Logic said. "It was big-time shots by them."
Iowa never got closer than eight in the second half.
Baylor put the game away with a 10-2 run that featured three 15-foot jumpers by Agbuke.
"That is a very good shot for Sune. Sune can face up and shoot that," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said of the mid-range jumper. "She never gets that opportunity, because people don't guard Nina the way Iowa was guarding her tonight. They were just leaving Sune open."
Agbuke's 23 points came on 9-of-17 shooting and bested her previous career-high of 16 set last season.
Before Friday, Agbuke had scored in double figures just seven times this season and only once in the past 10 games.
"Agbuke shot way over her numbers. We knew she could shoot from 15 but that often, that many times — I thought that she played over her regular capacity," Bluder said. "Davis is good. She is going to get hers. But I thought it was Agbuke that really hurt us."
Doolittle finished with 16 points and seven rebounds for Iowa before missing the final five minutes after suffering a broken nose.
Kali Peschel came off the bench to score 12 points and Dixon added 10 for Iowa. The loss ended the careers of Iowa seniors Logic, Doolittle, Dixon and Kathryn Reynolds.
The foursome won 93 games in their careers, the best mark for a senior class in 21 years.
"The effort that they have given us the last four years has been nothing but amazing," Bluder said of the seniors. "I'm so appreciative of those young ladies."