INDIANAPOLIS — Megan Gustafson has spent a season crediting her teammates for their roles in the Iowa women's basketball team's success.
Thursday during the Hawkeyes' first game at the Big Ten Championships, they proved the Big Ten player of the year right.
Iowa found a new way to win in a 55-45 victory over Northwestern, a match-up that saw Gustafson held to a season-low 12 points on eight shots.
"I don't remember the last time we won a game when Megan only had eight shots," coach Lisa Bluder said. "That was really different for us, and it's nice, actually. It's good. It's good for other people to understand that they need to step up in those situations and that they can. I think it's actually a good thing."
Bluder liked the way her team started as well.
The fifth-seeded Hawkeyes grabbed a 22-1 lead after one quarter against the Wildcats, the fewest points in a quarter by a team in the Big Ten tourney since the women's game went to quarters in 2015.
Makenzie Meyer knocked down three of the four 3-point baskets Iowa scored while dominating in the first quarter, a 10-minute Northwestern nightmare that saw the Wildcats go 0-for-15 from the field.
The Hawkeyes maintained 31-20 lead at halftime and carried a 41-29 lead into the fourth quarter before Northwestern rallied, pulling within 47-42 on a jumper by Lindsey Pulliam with 4 minutes, 3 seconds remaining in the game.
Alexis Sevillian answered with 3 on the ensuing possession, giving Iowa enough room to secure a spot in a 1:30 p.m. quarterfinal today against fourth-seeded Minnesota, a team the Hawkeyes split regular-season games against.
"We came off a great first quarter, and we might have relaxed a little too much," said Gustafson, whose previous lowest scoring effort of the season was a 15-point opening-weekend game against Western Kentucky.
"They were able to come back, but down the stretch we were able to finish and keep them from coming back all the way. I'm proud of our grit."
Bluder believed her team's biggest issues centered around a failure to box out, an issue at times throughout the season for a 24-6 Iowa team that was out-rebounded 39-32 by Northwestern.
The Wildcats committed two players to keeping Gustafson off the boards, and Bluder said that is where her teammates needed to become more active.
"You've got to finish out. It's part of defense," Bluder said. "We kind of relay for Megan crashing the boards for us, but other people have got to get involved."
Meyer led the Hawkeyes in scoring with 13 points, while Kathleen Doyle and Sevillian each contributed nine to go with the dozen points scored by Gustafson.
Pulliam led the Wildcats (12-20) on offense, finishing with 17 points, while Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah grabbed nine of her 17 rebounds on the offensive end to help Northwestern rally.