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Kathleen Doyle reflects on her Iowa career ahead of senior night. Hawk Central

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The Iowa women’s basketball team nearly delivered another magical finish to extend its mastery over Rutgers. But the key word is nearly, as the Hawkeyes’ furious rally to force overtime ultimately wasn’t enough in Sunday’s 78-74 loss at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Iowa committed 23 turnovers, including three costly ones in the first 2½ minutes of the extra session, on its way to the loss. Rutgers, known for its home-court prowess, also hustled to grab 22 offensive rebounds.

“We shot the ball well,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “We out-shot them in every single category. It’s just the 15 extra shots they got took us out of this game.”

Rutgers shot only 40.6% (28 of 69) and committed 20 turnovers of its own, but Iowa attempted just 54 shots (making 24, for 44.4%). The result? C. Vivian Stringer-coached Rutgers grabbed its first win against Iowa in eight tries since joining the Big Ten Conference in 2014.

Heroics from freshman Gabbie Marshall, who scored a career-high 22 points (including six 3-pointers), kept Iowa within striking distance. Still, the Hawkeyes were trailing, 49-40, early in the fourth quarter before charging back. Makenzie Meyer’s 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining tied the score at 63-63 to force overtime.

Monika Czinano finished with 19 points for the 20th-ranked Hawkeyes, who finished the regular season at 23-6 overall, 14-4 in Big Ten play. The result solidified that Iowa will be the No. 3 seed at this week’s Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

Iowa will play at approximately 8 p.m. CT Friday. No. 6 seed Ohio State (18-11, 11-7) would be the most likely opponent, if it wins its Thursday game. Iowa beat the Buckeyes, 77-68, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 23 in the teams’ only meeting this season.

Maryland and Northwestern are the top two seeds. Indiana is the No. 4, Rutgers No. 5. The Hawkeyes are the defending tournament champions.

Kathleen Doyle makes her closing argument for Big Ten player of the year.

Doyle finished with 14 points, nine assists and four steals in Sunday’s loss. The senior guard ended the regular season averaging 18.2 points per game (fourth in the Big Ten) and 6.4 assists (easily the league’s best).

Doyle’s top competition for player of the year will come from Rutgers’ Arella Guirantes (the Big Ten’s leading scorer, who had 15 points Sunday), Northwestern’s Lindsey Pulliam (the top scorer for the surprise Wildcats) and Maryland’s Kaila Charles (the best player on the best team).

There’s not a runaway winner this year, which will provide some drama at 3:30 p.m. Monday when that honor and all-conference teams will be announced during a half-hour Big Ten Network special. Iowa’s Megan Gustafson was the league’s player of the year in 2019. The award has been split six times in the history of the Big Ten, including in 2018 between Gustafson (media vote) and Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell (coaches). That scenario could be in play again Monday.

Doyle could become the fifth player of the year from Iowa in Big Ten history, joining Gustafson, Michelle Edwards (1988), Franthea Price (1990) and Tangela Smith (1998).

Does this hurt Iowa’s chances to host an NCAA Tournament game or two?

A win would’ve almost cemented it, but now there’s a little more drama to be had in Indianapolis. The Hawkeyes entered Sunday with the nation’s No. 8 RPI. They entered the week projected to be a No. 3 seed by ESPN analyst Charlie Creme. The key is to pick up at least one more win (hence avoiding a bad loss) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I’m hoping those top three (Big Ten teams) get home-court for the NCAA Tournament," Bluder said. "But I do think it’s important how we end up these last few games, (that) we show the selection committee that we definitely deserve to (host).”

In an interview Saturday with the Register, Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said he believes the NCAA would love to have the Hawkeyes host first- and second-round games. Iowa had the highest attendance of any of the 16 initial sites in last year’s tournament. To host requires earning a top-four NCAA seed.

“We should be a high seed. We have to finish,” Barta said. “I know that if we do get the seed, we’ll have great crowds.”

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