IOWA CITY – Making shots proved to be only part of the problem the Iowa women’s basketball team struggled with Sunday.
Washington State made finding quality looks at the basket a chore, smothering the Hawkeyes with long arms and long bodies to end Iowa’s season with a 74-66 loss in the quarterfinals of the WNIT at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“Their defense didn’t give us anything easy,’’ senior Ally Disterhoft said. “It seemed like they were everywhere.’’
The Cougars doubled down on Megan Gustafson in the post from start to finish, but didn’t leave the perimeter unchecked and that combination crafted a struggle-filled conclusion to the Hawkeye season in front of a crowd of 5,146.
“I thought they were really physical with their defense, and we didn’t adjust to that. It’s not like we haven’t seen physical basketball, but the combination of their length and their physical play seemed to hurt us,’’ said coach Lisa Bluder, who was denied the 700th win of her coaching career.
Washington State set that tone by holding Iowa to a string of 11 straight empty possessions beginning late in the opening quarter, allowing the Cougars to overcome an early 20-13 deficit and forge a 34-31 lead by the half.
Iowa shot just 37.3 percent for the game and missed its final 14 attempts from three-point range, including all 13 of its tries from behind the arc in the final two quarters.
“When we did get kick-outs from the post, they scrambled well in those situations. It was just a tough day,’’ said Disterhoft, who finished with 16 points to conclude her Hawkeye career with a school-record 2,102 points.
Iowa’s struggles extended to the free throw line, where the Hawkeyes connected on just 18 of 29 attempts, still two better than the Cougars in 28 tries, in a game thatsaw 50 fouls called.
Gustafson did finish with 19 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Hawkeyes, but Cougars coach June Daugherty said limiting her effectiveness was critical to the Cougars’ chances of advancing to face Georgia Tech in the semifinal round.
“She’s a fantastic player, and we were just trying to keep the ball from going in there because so much of their offense goes through her,’’ Daugherty said.
The Cougars (16-19) helped themselves on the offensive glass as well, turning 17 offensive rebounds into a 16-7 advantage in second-chance points.
The majority — 11 boards and 13 points — came during the tone-setting first half.
“When a team is getting offensive rebounds like that and we’re struggling to hit some shots that we normally hit, it’s kind of tough,’’ Disterhoft said. “We tried to buckle down a bit in the second half, but they were just a very physical team and they stuck with it.’’
Iowa (20-14) did pull within 62-58 when Alexa Kastanek hit the second of two foul shots with a minute, 58 seconds remaining, but Washington State responded with a 7-2 run.
Alexys Swedlund led four Cougars in double figures with a 20-point game, including hitting seven of the eight free throws she attempted in the final 1:23.
“It was a disappointing way to end, but it’s been a great year,’’ Bluder said. “This team could have buckled when we lost Tania (Davis, the starting point guard to an ACL injury). We have three freshmen in the starting lineup. We could make excuses for everything, but these guys never did.’’