INDIANAPOLIS — Every now and then, the star of the show has to bow out and trust the supporting cast.
That’s what Iowa junior Megan Gustafson did Thursday in the Hawkeyes’ 55-45 win over Northwestern in the second round of the Big Ten Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Gustafson wasn’t getting up to her season average of about 25 points with the Northwestern defense collapsing on her every time she touched the ball. Instead, it was potent shooting early and timely shots late that put Iowa through to its first appearance in the semifinals of the conference tournament since 2015.
As fifth-seeded Iowa (24-6) began asserting itself on both ends of the court, it was sophomore Makenzie Meyer who left Northwestern dumbfounded, scoring nine of the Hawkeyes’ first 13 points.
“We really emphasized coming out punching in the first quarter,” Meyer said.
Iowa connected on 9 of its first 14 field goals and dominated the first quarter with a 22-1 lead.
From that point on, though, the Hawkeyes struggled to find a rhythm and slowly allowed Northwestern (12-20) back into the game.
As Iowa’s hot shooting fizzled, the Hawkeyes tried putting more of an emphasis on getting the ball into the post, either to Gustafson or senior Chase Coley. But that look rarely found success, with Northwestern’s defense hounding inside.
“We just got a little flustered on offense,” said Meyer, which resulted in 16 Iowa turnovers in the final three quarters.
A number of those turnovers came as the Hawkeyes — bound and determined — tried feeding the post. Northwestern’s defense was active enough to disrupt many of those passes.
“They’re really good athletes,” said Gustafson, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. “They can jump out of the gym.”
Coupled with its denial of Gustafson, Northwestern could have turned itself into an even bigger threat if it had capitalized on the many second-chance opportunities it had.
“Luckily, they only scored six points on those 17 offensive rebounds, which is amazing,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
About midway in the fourth quarter, Northwestern had battled back to make it a five-point game. Gustafson was playing with four fouls after sitting for most of the fourth period and knew her usual post-up game wasn’t going to work against the Wildcats’ defense.
Instead, it was freshman Alexis Sevillian who delivered for the Hawkeyes. She scored eight of her nine points in the fourth quarter.
“The shot clock came down, and we needed something on offense,” said Sevillian, who also recorded a steal in the fourth quarter.
Bluder can lecture her team about not letting up and putting itself in the position of needing those big shots, but in her 34th year as a head coach, she knows what the postseason means.
“It wasn’t a pretty win, but at this point we don’t care,” she said.
The Hawkeyes will play Minnesota in the quarterfinals Friday at approximately 1:30 p.m. Iowa split its season series with the Gophers, with each team winning at home.