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Iowa women again falter late, falling to No. 23 Northwestern 87-80


Dargan Southard   | Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Locked against another quality Big Ten foe, the outcome lingering for someone to grab. Sound familiar? The Iowa women have had a few chances like these drift away.

And now another one is gone.

No. 23 Northwestern erased a nine-point deficit late in the third quarter, remained pesky throughout the fourth and pounced in the final minutes. The end product was another tough loss for the Hawkeyes to swallow, this time, 87-80, on Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. After zero home losses in nearly three years, Iowa (9-4, 5-4 Big Ten Conference) has two in less than three weeks. 

Monika Czinano had a day for the ages. Caitlin Clark sifted through first-half foul trouble to bring Iowa back with an emphatic third quarter. But with 23 turnovers splattered throughout, many of them appearing at just the wrong time, the Hawkeyes were left to stomach another missed chance at a signature Big Ten triumph.

"Turnovers continue to plague our team," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "It's hard to win games with this many turnovers."

There was no singular Northwestern dagger, no unforgettable moment that surfaced above the rest. Just a methodical Wildcats effort that didn't budge when Iowa had chances to lengthen the distance. And in a tied game with three minutes remaining, those in the road blacks seized a massive road moment.

Lindsey Pulliam had 11 of the Wildcats' final 16 points, most of them coming at the free-throw line as Iowa tried desperately to stay afloat. However, Pulliam's lone field goal in that stretch was a timely trey that splashed home after Iowa was within three with 1:33 left. That 79-73 hole proved too deep.

Pulliam's late efforts magnified the Wildcats' wide discrepancy at the foul line, a place Iowa usually lives with its aggressive, attacking style. The Hawkeyes finished 4-for-8 there for a season-low in free throws. Northwestern (9-3, 7-3) concluded 17-for-34, with 26 of those attempts coming in the fourth quarter.

The reasoning depends on interpretation.

"I don't know that I've ever coached in a game where there are 26 free throws in the fourth quarter (by one team)," Bluder said. "It's hard to win games when you (face a) 34-to-8 (difference) at the free-throw line. It's nearly impossible to do that.

"... I've got to watch the film on some of these fouls because we're not even in the bonus in the fourth quarter — and they shoot 26 free throws in the fourth quarter. I've never seen anything like it."

Iowa's sputter overshadowed Czinano's 34 points on a near-perfect shooting night. The junior center feasted on the Hawkeyes' size advantage just as she did in the first matchup, missing as many shots from the field (17-for-19) as she did from the line (0-for-2). Clark had two first-quarter fouls but rebounded for 23 points and eight assists.

It was Clark who ignited Iowa's 11-0 run to start the second half, splashing a bevy of treys that handed Iowa a 48-39 advantage at its high point.

The Hawkeyes' cushion remained at nine points all the way until the final four minutes of the third. But forget away a cruise-control finish. Northwestern, behind a quick strike fueled by Iowa miscues, grabbed the lead before the quarter horn sounded.

"We went on a run. We knew they were going to strike back — they're a great basketball team. That's why they're ranked, so I wasn't surprised," Clark said. "But once we do get that lead, we need to be a little smarter with the basketball and take better shots. I think things like that will help us increase those leads and stretch it out a little bit more.

"We can focus on that, going forward, and just clean up the turnovers and defense. That's the reason we've lost all our games this year. Once we clean that up, we'll be in pretty good shape."

Knowing where the problem lies offers little solace for another late whiff. A chance for ranked wins at Northwestern and against Ohio State earlier this month melted away in similar fashion as Thursday's affair. This one stung just as badly.

More so because Iowa knows it's right on the edge of greatness.

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.