IOWA CITY – Nothing they saw surprised them. As the Gophers prepared for Sunday’s regular-season finale at Iowa, they knew how important it would be to suppress the Hawkeyes’ deadly three-point shooting, particularly the prolific Melissa Dixon.
Coach Marlene Stollings told them it would require unflagging energy and unrelenting concentration. And when the Gophers drifted away from that, the No. 17 Hawkeyes buried them with the long ball in a 92-76 victory. Iowa made 13 of 23 three-pointers — with Dixon dropping in eight of 11 — as the Gophers summoned their best only sporadically at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, leaving them with their second consecutive loss and a No. 6 seed for this week’s Big Ten tournament.
The Hawkeyes finished the regular season with a 16-0 record at home and locked up the No. 2 seed for the tournament, which begins Wednesday in suburban Chicago. Shae Kelley scored 29 points for the Gophers, and Amanda Zahui B. finished with 21 rebounds, seven blocks and 22 points on 11-for-16 shooting.
The rest of the Gophers combined for only 25 points, connecting on nine of 32 field-goal attempts. Stollings was more concerned with the spotty defense, an area her team must solidify before it begins the Big Ten tournament Thursday. The Gophers will open against the winner of Wednesday’s first-round game between No. 11 seed Wisconsin and No. 14 seed Purdue.
“We just missed coverages,” Stollings said. “We just didn’t react quickly at times. We lost people. And our energy came and went. We didn’t sustain it as well as we needed to, especially defensively.”
Iowa ran its home winning streak to 19 games before an enthusiastic Senior Day crowd announced at 9,726. It also avenged a 93-80 loss to the Gophers 13 days ago at Williams Arena.
Kelley said Iowa adjusted well after that defeat, while the Gophers lacked consistency against the best long-range shooters in the Big Ten. Dixon, who is second in the country with 3.61 three-pointers made per game, hit four of five in the first half as the Gophers staggered out of the gate.
The Hawkeyes made their first three tries from three-point range en route to a 13-2 lead. They led by as many as 13 points before Kelley scored seven consecutive points to get the Gophers back into it. Her layup with 6 minutes, 27 seconds remaining in the first half gave the Gophers a 28-25 lead — but Dixon’s three-pointer with 5:04 left restored Iowa’s lead, and it never fell behind again.
After trailing 42-37 at halftime, the Gophers got as close as 46-44 on a three-point play by Kelley early in the second half. But the Gophers missed their next seven shots and committed four of their 20 turnovers as Iowa used a 10-0 run to take command. The Hawkeyes made seven of 11 three-pointers in the second half, complicating the Gophers’ task.
“We wanted to try to hold them under eight [three-point] makes for the game,” Stollings said. “When you give up 13, that’s going to be a tough night for us. Scoring 76 [points] on the road, I’m pretty pleased with. But defensively, we were not solid in any way, shape or form, particularly in the second half giving up 50 points.”
The Gophers finished the regular season with 22 victories, tying the second-highest total in program history. Kelley said the Gophers must communicate better on defense and avoid letdowns as they seek to regain their top form in the tournament.
“We want to go out and make a statement the next game, for sure,” Kelley said. “The tournament is a clean slate for everybody. We’re excited to go in, get a fresh start and get us back to being ourselves.”