We knew that the game between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Iowa Hawkeyes would be a good one in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, and it lived up to the hype. Minnesota shut down Iowa in the last ten seconds of the game and did not let them attempt a quality shot to hang on for a 90-89 win. Minnesota will now play #1 seed Ohio State Buckeyes in the semifinals Saturday night. It will be the Gophers first trip to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals since 2005.
The Gophers jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead just over two minutes into the game on two layups each by Gadiva Hubbard and Carlie Wagner. The lead did not last long as Iowa went on an 11-2 run to take the lead for the first time with 3:41 left in the first quarter. The Gophers would return the favor and end the first quarter in a 13-4 run to take a 25-17 lead. Minnesota took it directly to the heart of the Hawkeye defense and scored 22 of their 25 points in the paint in the first quarter.
Minnesota would extend their lead to twelve points at 33-21 with 5:51 left in the second quarter, but Minnesota could not find an answer to stop the Big Ten co-Player of the Year in Megan Gustafson. She would score 13 points in the second quarter alone to pull Iowa within 42-39 at the half.
Minnesota would go on another 9-0 run to start the third quarter and push their lead to ten at 51-41 before the Hawkeyes made another push. Gustafson was nearly unstoppable as she added another 15 points in the third quarter, and the Gophers went cold from the field. The Gophers at one point in the middle of the third quarter missed nine field goals in a row, and Iowa took advantage behind Gustafson. A Kenisha Bell layup as time expired in the third quarter would cut the Iowa lead to two points at 65-63.
Iowa would push their lead to five points with 8:55 to play in the game, but the Gophers would respond. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Destiny Pitts was 1-12 from behind the three point arc headed into the fourth quarter but she hit two in a row along with another jumper to score eight consecutive points for the Gophers. Wagner would add a layup, and Minnesota retook the lead at 75-74 with 6:46 to play. Wagner and Gustafson would trade baskets for the next two minutes as the Hawkeyes regained the lead. The teams traded baskets back and forth and a and one by Gustafson would put Iowa up two at 87-85 with 1:23 left to play in the game.
The Gophers would not be stopped down the stretch however. Pitts nailed her third triple of the quarter to put Minnesota back in front for good with 1:15 to play. Hubbard forced a turnover and then hit two foul shots to put Minnesota up three 90-87 with 52 seconds left. A Kathleen Doyle layup cut the Gopher leads to a single point with 35 second left, and then on the next possession Wagner got taken down by a Hawkeye player, but no foul was called and Iowa picked up the loose ball and called time out with 10.4 seconds left. But Minnesota would not be stopped. In a 90-89 game where defense was few and far between, the Gophers played their best defensive possession of the game and would not let the Hawkeyes get a good look at the potential game winning basket. The last ditch prayer by Amanda Ollinger was nowhere near close to the rim, and the Gophers would advance with a 90-89 win. See the final Hawkeye possession below:
Admit it, you jumped and screamed when the clock hit 0 too, didn't you? pic.twitter.com/cDE3rL0LBX— Minnesota WBB (@GopherWBB) March 2, 2018
The Gophers shot just 1-12 from behind the arc in the first half, but would go 7-19 in the second to end the game shooting 25.8%. Wagner led the Gophers with 27 points while Bell added 26 of her own. Destiny Pitts ended with 14 points, eleven of them coming in the fourth quarter. Minnesota hung on despite Gustafson scoring a Big Ten Tournament record 48 points for Iowa. She was an insane 19-26 from the field, and went 10-12 from the free throw line to nearly will the Hawkeyes to the win. She also added 15 rebounds in the losing effort.
The win will be key for Minnesota in potentially locking down a NCAA Tournament bid. Entering the game the Gophers were down to #48 in the RPI while Iowa was #16. With two wins over the Hawkeyes, and a win over #21 Maryland the Gophers will hopefully have enough top 25 wins to appease the committee. Minnesota could make a huge statement by beating the #1 seeded Buckeyes on Saturday night, though that will be significantly tougher. The Gophers lost 91-75 in Columbus in the only meeting between the two teams this season. Minnesota will need to play almost the perfect game to get the win and advance to the Big Ten Championship game on Sunday. There is always a chance.
The Gophers and Buckeyes will play at 5:00 PM on Saturday, and the game will air on the Big Ten Network and can be streamed on BTN2GO.