Against an Iowa team that received votes in the AP and ESPN/USA Today Preseason Top 25 polls and in a tough environment at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Friday evening, the Northern Illinois women’s basketball team battled hard in the second half but could not overcome a 34-13 first half deficit in a 63-40 season-opening loss.
“Our defense was pretty steady,” said NIU head coach Kathi Bennett of her team that is one of four since 2011-12 to hold Iowa under 65 points at home.
“It’s pretty good to hold Iowa to 63 points. We had too many mental errors, though. We were a jump-shooting team and we needed to get the ball into the post more. This experience is something to learn from. We played a very good team in a tough environment. We got down and battled. We will learn a lot from this and it will help us down the road.”
Improving to 13-0 in season openers under head coach Lisa Bluder and coming off its fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, Iowa felt the wrath of NIU’s defense early on as the Hawkeyes (1-0) scored just two points on their first six possessions. The Huskies (0-1) forced three missed shots and two turnovers by the Hawkeyes.
Meanwhile, Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola) hit her first three jumpers to score all six of NIU’s points to start the game.
However, eight minutes into the first half, NIU started to struggle with Iowa’s size – mainly Preseason All-Big Ten selection Morgan Johnson, who stands at 6’5″ and scored a team-high 11 points. Iowa blocked four shots during the first eight minutes, forced five NIU turnovers and held an 8-2 edge in points in the paint – themes that continued the entire game – to grab a 10-6 lead.
By the next media timeout, the Hawkeyes were up 18-10 with eight minutes left in the half and had 12 points off seven NIU turnovers as the Huskies struggled to handle Iowa’s pressure defense and lanky defenders. Iowa then finished the final 11:42 of the half on a 16-3 run to hold a commanding 34-13 lead.
The Hawkeyes held NIU to a 17.4 shooting percentage, while Iowa shot 50 percent and went 4-for-5 on three-pointers. Conversely, the Huskies missed all seven of their threes and held a 10-1 edge in free throw attempts but only converted five. Iowa also had advantages in turnovers (10-5), points off turnovers (16-2) and points in the paint (16-4).
Needing a huge second half, NIU outscored Iowa 9-6 in the first four minutes but the Huskies couldn’t keep it up. Despite shooting 40 percent in the second half and holding Iowa to 29.6 percent, and having a 44-34 rebounding edge for the game, NIU was outscored by two points in the second stanza, 29-27.
For the game, Iowa forced 22 turnovers and only turned the ball over 10 times. The discrepancy in ball care led to a 26-6 Iowa edge in points off turnovers. The Hawkeyes ended up with a 24-10 advantage in points in the paint and even shot 60 percent on threes, going 6-for-10 with nearly each ending any momentum NIU had built up. Iowa’s 60 percent mark on threes is just the second time NIU had given up a 60 percent three-point rate under Bennett (at Illinois State, Nov. 26, 2011).
Taylor was NIU’s lone scorer in double figures and led all scorers in the game with 12 points. She also added a career-high 11 rebounds for her first double double.
“Tay (Satavia Taylor) played hard,” Bennett said. “That’s the hardest I’ve seen Tay play. She got a little gassed at the end but she played really well tonight.”
The Huskies continue the Preseason WNIT next weekend as they will play at one site for two games, one on Friday and one on Saturday. The game times and opponents will be announced early next week.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.