Ohio State, the No. 8 seed to Iowa's No. 5, trailed by as many as 11 in the second half and was behind 73-65 with 41/2 minutes to go, but head coach Kevin McGuff's team made one final push for the championship game.
"We had several opportunities in the second half where we could have went away, but we kept fighting and we gave ourselves a chance at the end," a slightly teary-eyed McGuff said after the game. "And a couple things didn't go our way and but very, very proud of this group, especially our seniors. Any time you take over a job, the thing you wish for most is you inherit great kids. And we have some wonderful young women in this program and it was a real pleasure to coach them this year."
Senior forward Darryce Moore started the comeback with a layup at the 4:10 mark then got the ball in the post and drew a foul that resulted in a pair of made free throws on the next Ohio State possession. She put back a miss by classmate Martina Ellerbe with 3:01 left to draw the Buckeyes within two, then drew a foul after rebounding her own miss and hit two more free throws to tie the game at 73 with 2:02 left.
"I'm so proud of her," Ellerbe said of Moore. "We both have come such a long way and at the end it was really gutsy."
Iowa guard Theairra Taylor then made the play of the game, driving for a contested layup she had to throw up from an awkward angle but still managed to bank home for the go-ahead basket with 1:32 left.
Ohio State had two chances to tie or take the lead after that, but Ameryst Alston's layup bounced out with about a minute to go, and Ellerbe's three-point attempt from the corner with 10 seconds left was no good.
That forced the Buckeyes to foul, and Melissa Dixon iced the game with a pair of free throws as 1.8 seconds showed on the Banker's Life Fieldhouse clock.
"Thei's basket was incredible," Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. "I think she just willed that thing in. I think the whole Iowa fan base willed that ball in. Defense held the last few seconds, the last minute there, and very, very glad that we survived this one."
The Hawkeyes (26-7) advanced to the Big Ten tournament championship game to take on the winner of a later game between Michigan State and Nebraska while the Buckeyes were sent home with a 17-18 final mark.
Taylor finished with a game-high 21 points while freshman guard Ally Disterhoft and junior forward Bethany Doolittle added 18 apiece. Dixon had 16 points and four assists. She also canned four three-pointers in the first half as the Hawkeyes built what would ultimately be a 47-42 halftime lead.
Alston led Ohio State with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting while Moore and Ellerbe scored 15 apiece.
With Iowa predictably focused on slowing down All-Big Ten first-teamer Alston, McGuff said the final play was designed to go to Moore on the low block.
"She had really come alive down the stretch and was playing hard, getting great position, finishing, so that was the first thing," he said. "I actually think she was open, but Cait was a little bit -- you know, rightfully so -- trying to make sure we didn't turn it over. I think she could have thrown it, but then we had an action after that in the offense we run and we got a great look. And I'm glad that we got a chance at a three and a chance to win the game and Am did a great job of drawing two. And they were probably smart stopping her because she was on her way trying to get to the rim and they stopped her. And she threw a great pass to Martina and she stepped into it and had a wide open look and it didn't go in. And I think the thing you hope for most as a coach is that you get a chance. We got a chance, but it didn't go in."
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