It's hard to argue the Hawkeyes' win over the Gophers wasn't great.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Lisa Bluder was reminded in the postgame presser that, with its 80-65 win over Minnesota, Iowa took sole possession of fifth place in the Big Ten. Ally Disterhoft and Megan Gustafson, sitting to their coach's right, smiled at each other and high-fived under the table.
And they were right to. This was a smile-and-high-five-under-the-table type of win.
The Hawkeyes hadn’t triumphed in any game they weren't favored in before Saturday. Wins against Iowa State, James Madison, Northern Iowa were all decent, and thanks to the Panthers' play since, that UNI win is actually starting to look pretty dang good.
But they lost to South Dakota State, a favored team they could’ve beaten. They lost on the road to Drake, an in-state rival with a solid, but not insurmountable, home-court advantage.
That faulty pattern ended against Minnesota. Don’t call it an upset, because it wasn’t even close to that. But with an RPI 17 spots higher than Iowa’s, Minnesota was the "better" team. And Iowa throttled it, 45-29, after halftime for a convincing win before a season-high crowd of 7,191.
Iowa's RPI of 64 will now likely drop into the 50s.
"I feel like this is four good games that we've put together in a row now," Bluder said. "Winning is good for a lot of things, definitely for confidence, though. We've got to take this into Maryland (next Saturday). We know that's a tough place to go play them right away again. But I just feel like we're playing very well right now, and that feels good for our players."
Last time Iowa played Minnesota, Rachel Banham’s buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer likely doomed the Hawkeyes' NCAA Tournament chances in mid-February last year.
This time, Tania Davis and Makenzie Meyer drilled the daggers.
Davis’ corner 3-pointer with 8:52 left pushed Iowa’s lead to 63-53 — its largest of the game. After the Gophers had closed to gap to 65-59 with 5:24 left, Meyer answered with a long ball. She sunk a layup on the next possession, and Davis completed a 3-point, and-1 play on Iowa’s following possession to take a 73-59 lead with 4:25 left.
The sophomore point guard scored 10 and added a season-high eight assists.
The Gophers never got within 13 points the rest of the way.
This was Iowa's only game this season against Minnesota, a team it might be competing with for a ticket to the Big Dance come March.
"When you play these teams once, it’s nice to be able to (win)," Bluder said. "Because with head-to-head competition at the end of the year, it bumps you ahead of them. And when you’re only playing three doubles, that’s pretty important."
Gustafson recorded her 10th double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Disterhoft, whose shot has been off so far in Big Ten play, had her best conference game of the season and finished with 17 points on 6 of 12 shooting, four assists, a block, a steal and no turnovers.
"Just gives you a little bit more confidence to keep shooting and keep having your feet ready," Disterhoft said of making her first shot, a 3-pointer. "But it definitely was nice to see that go in, especially because it wasn’t the smoothest shot. It was kind of hesitated and then just launched, but oh well."
Kathleen Doyle kept Iowa close in the first half with 10 points and wound up with 11. Davis also netted 10 points to go along with a season-high eight assists.
Iowa shot 48 percent (31-for-64) and held Minnesota to 38 percent (24-for-64).
Gadiva Hubbard led Minnesota with 18 points. Carlie Wagner, the team's leading scorer, added 16, Kenisha Bell had 11 and Whitney Tinjum had 10, all in the first half. Ten of Wagner's 16 came in the first half, when the Gophers held a 36-35 advantage.
Entering the game, the Gophers had the fourth-most rebounds in the country. Iowa outrebounded them, 40-34, and outscored them, 38-18, in the paint.
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_.