In the end Wisconsin could point to several areas where it fell short. There was the team's season-worst free-throw shooting (4 of 14, 29 percent), including a miserable 2 of 11 performance in the second half. There was the five-minute scoreless stretch to start the second half. There was the mere four points scored on eight possessions in the final three minutes of the game, after UW had drawn within 59-55. There were the Badgers 14 first-half turnovers, which Iowa turned into 18 points.
"The story of the game obviously was our first-half turnovers and Iowa's conversion on transition points of 18," UW coach Lisa Stone said. "In the second half obviously it was the free-throw shooting."
Wisconsin has every reason to be frustrated. The team is playing well enough to be thisclose to pulling out victories, but just cannot put together enough plays to get over the hump. The list of teams the Badgers had a chance to knock off is growing extraordinary. Contests against Notre Dame, Kansas, Minnesota and Michigan State stand out. Add Iowa to that mix.
"We've just got to find ways to win," senior guard Ashley Josephson said. "We're a team that's not used to winning yet. Our (assistant) coach, Tasha (McDowell), she always says that winning is learning you need to learn how to win. And that's what we need to try to do. We need to finish some games off strong and learn how to win those close games."
But for all the possibilities the Badgers have now lost five consecutive games. After starting the season 4-0, Wisconsin has lost 12 of 14 and now stands 6-12 overall and 1-6 in the Big Ten.
"The team is together and they care about each other and this is hard on us," Stone said. "We're tired. We're beat up a little bit right now mentally. I told the kids our optimism will remain. We'll continue to forge forward. We'll be very positive and continue to believe in these kids. We care about them. We love them a lot and we're going to do our best to show them the way."
The Badgers were again without injured guard Janese Banks. Another night with a short bench, another night where Jolene Anderson was effectively asked for a superhuman effort. Anderson led the Badgers with 20 points in 36 minutes. She made 8 of 18 shots, but was 4 of 14 after hitting her first four attempts from the field.
Anderson hit jumpers with 4:20 and 3:22 left to play, the latter narrowing Iowa's lead to 59-55. But she missed two free throws with 36 seconds left and her jumper with 16 seconds remaining glanced off the iron.
In the last five minutes, the Badgers were 0-for-5 from the free-throw line.
"You knock down a couple of those free throws now we're not tired any more," Stone said. "You're just not tired. You might be tired physically. The game's going, some people are logging a lot of minutes. But it's a new shot of energy. We got to the free-throw line. We just have to capitalize."
Meanwhile, Iowa (12-6, 5-2) salted the game away at the charity stripe, making 22 of 28, including a 9 of 10 performance in the final 1:13. That allowed the Hawkeyes to overcome 32 percent shooting (7 of 22) in the second half.
"I'm just thankful for the free-throw line because we stepped up and made the free throws," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "Good teams make their free throws."
Iowa's Megan Skouby led all scorers with 23 points and the Hawkeyes picked up 15 points apiece from Crystal Smith and Tiffany Reedy. Iowa was able to pull out the victory despite Wisconsin's 43-31 rebounding advantage.
"We've all been in hard times," UW senior forward Kjersten Bakke said. "Everyone experiences this in their life. This is ours to deal with. We can't do anything but control our work ethic every day. We'll step out on the floor tomorrow just as ready to work as we were the day before. That's what we're going to approach the next couple weeks with and that's all we can control."