Every time Northwestern seemed poised to put together a run, Iowa’s Melissa Dixon had an answer – usually in the form of a three-pointer.
Behind Dixon’s hot shooting, Iowa (19-11, 8-8 Big Ten) spoiled Senior Day for Northwestern (13-16, 5-11) on Sunday, with a rematch looming in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. In honor of their last home game as Wildcats, seniors Inesha Hale, Kate Popovec, Dannielle Diamant and Kendall Hackney were each recognized with applause from the audience.
Dixon finished with a game-high 21 points for Iowa, while sophomore guard Karly Roser led the Wildcats with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Tight defense from each side early in the game led to a combined 3-for-15 start from the field, and Iowa held just a 4-2 lead after five minutes of play. However, the shooting quickly began to improve. Hackney drilled a three-pointer to ignite a 7-0 Northwestern run, but it was quickly answered with five straight points from the Hawkeyes.
Minutes later, forward Maggie Lyon showed the skills that make her a major candidate for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. She hit a three and then another jumper to put the Wildcats up 18-14.
Iowa continued to answer, and Dixon’s second three of the night tied the game. She didn’t stop there, hitting two more from downtown to give her team a 27-20 advantage. After Roser hit two free throws to close the gap, Dixon went coast-to-coast for a layup at the buzzer, sending the Hawkeyes into the half up 31-22.
“[Dixon] got real hot on loose balls and transition,” Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown said. “She just has this ability to get open while you’re trying to help on other teammates.”
Despite Dixon’s four early threes, Iowa made a conscious effort to get it down low after halftime. The Hawkeyes beat the ‘Cats down the floor several times and scored the first five points of the second half as a result.
In their last game at Welsh-Ryan, the Northwestern seniors took it upon themselves to try to make a comeback. After a Diamant layup, Northwestern put on the full-court press, forcing the Hawkeyes into several mistakes. Hackney and Diamant each knocked down jumpers to cut the deficit to 36-28.
But once again, Dixon answered. Iowa broke the press and hit her on the wing, where she knocked down her fifth triple of the game. The Wildcats didn’t help themselves by committing several turnovers, many of which came on attempted post-entry passes. Behind a patient offensive attack with good ball movement, the Hawkeyes were able to pull away, while the ‘Cats struggled to score.
“[Iowa was] really physical today,” McKeown said. “We’ve got to be more creative ... in finding ways to score. If we can do that, we might be the most dangerous team in the [Big Ten] Tournament.”
When Hackney and Diamant left the floor for the last time with under a minute remaining, they received a great ovation from the fans. These seniors comprise the winningest four-year class in the past 15 years.
“Those guys have been able to not only turn around the culture of women’s basketball at Northwestern, but just the way they carry themselves on and off the court,” McKeown said. “I’m just really proud of all of them.”
Although the regular season has come to a close, the Wildcats are not done yet. The Big Ten Tournament begins Thursday, and Northwesten will take on Iowa once again at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill.