INDIANAPOLIS — Both the Michigan and Iowa women’s basketball teams held double-digit leads as they faced off to open the Big Ten Tournament, but it was the latter that lasted until the end.
The Hawkeyes powered back from a 16-point deficit to build an equally commanding lead of their own, and they never let Michigan back into the game for a 97-85 win.
The Wolverines trailed by just eight going into the fourth quarter, but 35-percent shooting in the last 10 minutes prevented them from crawling back.
Michigan had been in that position before, even against Iowa. At home in January, the Wolverines trailed Iowa by 17 and came back to win. Early in the fourth quarter Thursday, they cut the lead to just two.
“We hit a couple shots and pulled within, but because we didn’t get the stops, we weren’t able to convert on the offensive end,” said senior guard Madison Ristovski, who had 10 points, four rebounds, four assists.
A simple defensive change from Iowa was the difference maker.
It became clear from the opening tip that the Hawkeyes hadn’t assigned the right matchup to Michigan freshman center Hallie Thome.
Iowa forward Chase Coley guarded Thome in the first quarter, but during that stretch the Wolverine center had 11 points, two offensive rebounds, a block and a steal.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder adjusted the matchup, giving freshman forward Megan Gustafson a bigger share of the responsibility, and she completely flipped the script.
Gustafson played more physical against Thome, and she personally outscored Thome 11-4 in the Hawkeyes’ second-quarter run. Gustafson finished with a career-high 25 points as well as 10 rebounds, just one of Iowa’s three double-doubles Thursday.
Whenever the Wolverines’ guards were on the wing and looking to make an entry pass to the post, the other defender, either Gustafson or Coley, sagged behind Thome, ready to double-team Michigan’s inside scorer.
“The double team took my game over,” Thome said. “I saw (Coley and Gustafson) rotate back and forth, but a lot throughout the game they would come over and double. Chase is kind of a short player, so you can attack her more. Whereas Megan, you want to do the up-and-under’s to get around her feet.
“It was harder to get into deep positioning with Megan.”
With two players of Thome’s size, Iowa’s post presence wore her down, as they continued to attack her on both the offensive and defensive end. She scored just four points in the remainder of the game.
“She came out and had a great first quarter but really wasn’t able to sustain that,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico.
As Thome began to struggle, the Hawkeyes took advantage. Iowa crushed Michigan in the second quarter, 31-13, stealing the lead behind a dominant showing from guard Ally Disterhoft.
Disterhoft, a second-team All-Big Ten recipient, played like she deserved to be on the first team. With 17 of her 22 points coming in the first half, the Iowa junior contributed to the Hawkeyes’ 81-percent shooting in the second quarter, helping her team respond to the slow start.
After Gustafson, Iowa’s other two double-doubles came from Coley (20 points, 10 rebounds) and guard Tania Davis (10 points, 10 assists). Despite struggling to individually defend Thome, Coley excelled on offense.
For Michigan, Flaherty led the way offensively. She put up team-high 31 to set a school single-season scoring record, but it was of little consolation in the loss. She and Thome drained their shots early on, but their reign barely lasted a quarter.
For about eight minutes on Thursday, Michigan was leaving Iowa in its dust.
But then Bluder made the switch from Coley to Gustafson, Iowa fought back and the Wolverines struggled to put together a scoring option, making for short-lived stay in Indianapolis. While Iowa advances to play No. 1 seed Maryland at noon Friday, Michigan will likely head to the WNIT to wrap up its season.