More than four months ago, Theairra Taylor stood at media day and promised she wasn’t leaving Iowa without some hardware.
On Saturday, the fifth-year senior made sure that she will get a chance to make good on that promise.
Taylor scored a game-high 21 points, including the go-ahead basket with 1:29 left as No. 23 Iowa reached the Big Ten Tournament title game for the first time since 2010 with a 77-73 win over Ohio State (17-18) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“The whole season that has been on my mind, winning a championship,” Taylor said. “I want to leave Iowa with a championship ring on my finger.”
Thanks to her late-game heroics, Taylor will have a shot at a championship Sunday.
Taylor’s driving scoop shot with 1:29 left just beat the shot clock and snapped a 73-all tie.
The Hawkeyes came up with defensive stops on back-to-back possessions following Taylor’s game-winner and Melissa Dixon hit a pair of free throws with 1.8 seconds left to secure the win.
Iowa (26-7) will try to win the Big Ten tournament for the first time since 2001 when they face Nebraska in Sunday’s championship game at noon.
“Just the will to scoop it up there and get it in and to want the ball in that situation, that’s Theairra,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I think she is playing the best basketball of her career right now.”
Taylor’s 21 points led four Iowa players in double figures as Ally Disterhoft and Bethany Doolittle each added 18 for the Hawkeyes.
Melissa Dixon hit four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points as Iowa won its sixth straight game and third in three days in Indianapolis.
“I just feel great about this victory,” Bluder said. “I thought our kids were really mentally tough down the stretch. Theairra’s basket was incredible. 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.”
Iowa never trailed Saturday but couldn’t put the game away until Dixon’s free throws with 1.8 seconds left.
The Hawkeyes led 73-65 with 4:34 left following a Disterhoft free throw but Ohio State made one final run.
The Buckeyes scored eight straight points and tied the score at 73-all on a pair of free throws by Darryce Moore with 2:02 left.
On the ensuing possession, Iowa worked the ball around the perimeter against Ohio State’s zone before Taylor slashed to the basket with the shot clock winding down.
“I saw the opening but I didn’t know if I had the touch to kiss it off the glass the right way,” Taylor said. “Luckily I did.”
Her driving, twisting 10-footer banked in and gave Iowa a 75-73 lead.
“Amazing,” junior Sam Logic said of Taylor’s shot. “It was just an amazing shot by her, she played amazing all day. There are no words to describe how big that shot was.”
Ohio State, which shot 62 percent from the floor in its quarterfinal win over top-seeded Penn State and 52 percent on Saturday had two chances to tie or take the lead but miss fired on its final two field goal attempts.
Sophomore guard Ameryst Alston, who led Ohio State with 20 points, missed a layup on the possession following Taylor’s shot and Martina Ellerbe couldn’t get a 3-pointer to go down with 10 seconds left.
Ally Disterhoft grabbed the rebound after both of the Buckeye’s final two misses and finished with a team-high eight boards.
“I think we really showed our resiliency,” Disterhoft said. “We stuck together as a group and down the stretch we all just made plays whether it was Theairra’s basket or Melissa hitting those two free throws at the end, everybody stepped up.”
Iowa shot 43 percent from the floor compared to Ohio State’s 52 percent but made five more 3-pointers and seven more free throws than the Buckeyes and committed just 11 turnovers.
Logic finished with nine assists against just one turnover, but Saturday was all about Taylor.
“Theairra definitely deserves the headlines for this one because she was just amazing,” Logic said. “I can’t put into words how big she was for us today.”