The third seeded Rutgers women’s basketball team lost in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Saturday night to second seeded Iowa. After trailing by 20 points midway through the third quarter, the Scarlet Knights battled back to cut the Hawkeyes lead to just 3 points on multiple occasions. However, they couldn’t get any closer and fell 72-67 despite a valiant effort in defeat.
Despite limiting Big Ten Player of the Year Megan Gustafson to just 2 first quarter points, Iowa jumped out to a 16-4 lead early on. Rutgers went on a 9-2 run to cut the lead to 5, but Iowa dominated the second quarter and led 37-23 at halftime.
Iowa went on a 7-0 run midway though the third quarter to lead 51-31 with 4:51 left in the frame. Rutgers was able to cut the lead to 13 points entering the fourth quarter. They continued to fight and picked up its defense, as they stormed back with an 11-0 run to make it a one possession game at 61-58 with 4:45 remaining in the game. It was back and forth the rest of the way, but Iowa hung on for the 5 point victory and advance to the Big Ten Championship game on Sunday against top seeded Maryland.
Gustafson led the Hawkeyes with 20 points on 9 of 18 shooting and had 12 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists. Hannah Stewart added 14 points on 6 of 7 from the field and 7 rebounds, while Makenzie Meyer had 13 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals.
For Rutgers, Arella Guirantes continued her strong play and had a team high 16 points on 5 of 10 shooting. She added 4 assists, 2 rebounds, and 1 steal. Stasha Carey was 7 of 14 from the field for 14 points and added 7 rebounds, 6 steals, and 3 assists. Noga Peleg Pelc also scored 14 points behind 4 of 8 shooting from three-point range while dishing out 3 assists. Charise Wilson scored 10 points, 3 steals, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists.
Shooting just 9 of 31 (29%) from the floor in the first half put Rutgers in too big of a hole to come back from, but credit this team for never giving up and coming so close to doing so. They only committed 11 turnovers in the game and held a +6 edge in points off of turnovers, forcing Iowa into a season high 20. They did lose the battle inside, as Iowa held a 34-30 advantage with points in the paint and a +7 rebounding margin.
Rutgers returns home with a 22-9 overall record and a third place finish in Big Ten play. The NCAA Selection Show is on March 18th at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. As of Sunday morning, RealTimeRPI.com has Rutgers slotted in as a 6th seed, while Charlie Creme of ESPN has them as an 8th seed from his last projection posted on Saturday. I’ll provide an update of all the latest projections for Rutgers leading up to the NCAA Selection Show sometime next week.
For now, credit to the Scarlet Knights for finishing the regular season strong and producing its best finish since joining the Big Ten, as well as advancing to the semifinals for the first time since joining the league. Acting head coach Tim Eatman and the rest of the staff have done a great job with this team and the players continue to play hard, despite all of the adversity they encountered in the last few weeks.