For a short while it looked like Iowa's Senior Day was going to end in disaster. After taking a 38-31 lead into halftime, Iowa went cold in the third quarter and trailed Wisconsin 52-51 heading into the fourth quarter. A loss to the Badgers on Senior Day would have been disappointing in its own right, but it also would have been an extremely damaging loss for Iowa's NCAA Tournament aspirations. Wisconsin is a bad team: they entered this game at 8-20 overall and 3-12 in the Big Ten. Iowa's NCAA Tournament hopes were likely hanging by a thread after back-to-back road losses to Purdue and Indiana, so losing to this Wisconsin team -- at home, no less! -- would likely have snapped that thread and consigned Iowa to another trip to the WNIT.
Fortunately, that didn't happen as Iowa rolled to a 71-60 win thanks to a big fourth quarter. Iowa rebounded from an icy third quarter with their best quarter of the game: 20 points on 70% shooting from the floor (7/10), including 50% (2/4) from 3-point range. Meanwhile, they clamped down on the Badgers on the other end of the floor -- Wisconsin scored just eight points in the fourth quarter and shot an anemic 18.8% from the floor in the final quarter (3/16), including 0/4 from deep. More importantly, they stopped getting to the free throw line -- after making 9/10 free throws in the third quarter, Wisconsin went just 2/4 at the line in the fourth quarter. And so Iowa avoided a crushing loss with a strong finish. Whew.
It was Senior Day, but sophomore Megan Gustafson was the star of the show on Sunday, picking up her 15th double-double of the season with 22 point (10/14 shooting), 14 rebound effort. Senior Ally Disterhoft chipped in 19 points, giving her 2022 points in her illustrious Iowa career. She's 38 points away from unseating Cindy Haugejorde as Iowa's all-time leading scorer. The biggest question is if Iowa will have enough games left in this season for her to get those points. Kathleen Doyle struggled to score (four points on 1/9 shooting), but she did have six assists and two steals. Hannah Stewart (eight points and three rebounds) and Chase Coley (five points and six rebounds) gave Iowa a strong boost off the bench.
So what's next for Iowa? The 2017 Big Ten Tournament gets underway in Indianapolis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse from March 1-5. Iowa finished at 8-8 in the Big Ten and in a tie for 8th with Northwestern. They got the #8 seed over Northwestern by virtue of having the tiebreaker over the Wildcats after beating them earlier this year. Of course, that doesn't really matter all that much -- the #8 and #9 seeds each get a bye on Wednesday and play each other in the first game on Thursday. So Iowa plays Northwestern on Thursday, March 2 at 11 AM CT in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. If they win, they'll play the #1 seed, Ohio State, at 11 AM CT on Friday. That's a tough draw, for sure, but OSU might be slightly preferable to Maryland (the #2 seed), given that Iowa played Ohio State a bit closer than they did Maryland in the regular season.
As far as the NCAA Tournament goes, first things first: Iowa needs to beat Northwestern on Thursday. I don't think they can get a bid if they end the season losing three of four games (to fellow bubble contenders, no less). A win over Northwestern doesn't lock anything up for them, but it keeps hope alive. A win over Ohio State in the second game might be enough to lock up a bid for them. A loss to Ohio State? That probably has them sweating a bit when the bracket is revealed. But just handle step one first: beat Northwestern.
NEXT: #8 seed Iowa plays #9 seed Northwestern on Thursday (11 AM CT, BTN) in the Big Ten Tournament.