IOWA CITY — Just like that, it was over.
The Northern Iowa women’s basketball team was off to the type of gritty start coach Tanya Warren hoped to see against 16th-ranked Iowa, leading the Hawkeyes 22-18 just under three minutes into the second quarter.
Two turnovers and three possessions later, the lead vanished and Iowa was on its way to an 83-57 rout of the Panthers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I liked our mindset the first quarter and a half. We were good defensively, locked in,’’ Warren said. “Then we turned it over a couple of times, missed a couple of shots and we allowed our inability to make a shot to bleed into what we were doing defensively.’’
That played right into the hands of the Hawkeyes, who fed the ball to seniors Megan Gustafson and Tania Davis for their next 10 points as they moved ahead to stay.
Iowa closed the second quarter on a 15-2 run and didn’t let up when it returned to the court to start the second half.
“By halftime, we were done,’’ Warren said. “We let that little stretch late in the second quarter do us in. You could feel that energy and you can’t play with that mindset.’’
On its way to its 12th straight win in the series against the Panthers, Iowa outscored UNI 26-11 in the third quarter.
The Hawkeyes held the Panthers to 10-of-30 shooting in the middle two quarters as Iowa grew its 35-24 halftime lead into a 61-35 advantage through three quarters.
“We did a lot of good things to take control of the game,’’ Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “Defensively, we found their 3-point shooters and chased them off the line, we had 20 assists, a season-low eight turnovers and for the first three quarters, I felt like we played really good defense.’’
Playing for the first time without injured Megan Maahs, the rebounding leader in the Missouri Valley Conference last season, the Panthers had no answer for the Hawkeyes’ Gustafson.
On her way to a 28-point, 12-rebound performance, Iowa’s senior post player needed just over 15 minutes to record the 64th double-double of her career and her ninth of the season.
“The big thing for me is to be patient, to take those first few possessions and see how teams are defending me and get other players involved, then go to work,’’ said Gustafson, who knocked down 11 of the 14 shots she took and is now 53 points away from becoming Iowa’s career scoring leader.
The game was more than seven-and-a-half minutes old before Gustafson attempted her first shot, knocking it down to cut into an early 12-7 UNI lead and send Iowa (8-2) on its way to a 44-24 advantage in points in the lane.
“Fundamentally, she’s one of the best all-Americans I’ve seen at this level in my 24 years of coaching,’’ Warren said. “She’s a tough match-up for anybody.’’
Gustafson led a group of four Hawkeyes in double figures, her effort complemented by 13 points from Kathleen Doyle and 10 apiece from Hannah Stewart and Davis.
Karli Rucker led the Panthers (5-4) with 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting.
The sophomore from North Scott collected 11 of those points in the first half, dished out four assists and shared the team lead with four rebounds.
“Losing Megan has been a big loss and the first game back, the mentality of our team has changed,’’ Rucker said. “We need people to keep stepping up and like coach says, it can’t be one of us, everybody has to do a little more. We’ll learn from this.’’
Northern Iowa hosts two more games before its holiday break, beginning with a Wednesday game against Minnesota State, while the Hawkeyes conclude their nonconference schedule Friday with a 6 p.m. game at Drake.