Megan Gustafson Leads Hawkeyes to Elite Eight
The Hawkeyes weren’t satisfied with just reaching the Sweet 16. It sure looked that way on Saturday in Greensboro, N.C.
Iowa downed N.C. State, 79-61, advancing to its first Elite Eight since 1993. It also reached it two other times in program history (’87 & ’88). The Hawkeyes tied the record for most wins (29-6) in a single season, matching the total of the ’88 squad.
They play top-seeded Baylor, a 93-68 winner against South Carolina Saturday, at 6 p.m. central time on Monday with the survivor earning a spot in the Final Four. The Hawkeyes’ only trip there came in ’93.
“You know, that’s the goal, right, is you always want to take your program as high as you can and make it as good as you can, and this certainly was a step for us,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
“You know, we had not as a coaching staff been to an Elite 8, so it was really important to us, and it was important to our players. We also, I think it’s the first team that’s ever had 29 wins in a season since that year, as well. At one point in that year, they also went to the Final Four.”
All-American center Megan Gustafson led the way against the Wolfpack (27-6) Saturday. The senior from Wisconsin scored 27 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and handed out four assists. She shot 10 of 13 from the floor and made all seven of her foul shots.
Gustafson tied the NCAA record for most double-doubles (33) in a season. She outplayed outstanding N.C. State freshman center, Elissa Cunane, who finished with 14 points and 11 boards, but shot just 6 of 19 from the floor.
“It was definitely a really good battle. You know, she’s a really great center, and she has got a great career ahead of her. We were both working hard down there,” Gustafson said.
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“Whenever I saw her along with another teammate doubling it, I was able to hit my guards and they were able to hit after that, so after that I was able to get a little bit open inside and I have to credit my teammates for hitting those shots.”
The Wolfpack couldn’t find an answer for Gustafson. But she received plenty of help on Saturday.
Fellow senior Hannah Stewart scored 16 points and hauled in 11 rebounds. Their classmate, Tania Davis, added 10 points and six assists without a turnover. Junior Kathleen Doyle chipped in with nine points and a game-high eight assists.
Iowa played some its best defense of the season, holding the Wolfpack 24 of 69 (35 percent) shooting from the floor. They connected on just 4 of 18 (22 percent) from behind the three-point arc.
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The winners converted 31 of 57 (54 percent) of their field-goal tries, including 7 of 18 (39 percent) on threes. They accumulated 24 assists on the 31 baskets.
The Hawkeyes built a 14-point, first-half lead and led 37-24 at halftime. N.C. State used a 14-6 run to start the third quarter, cutting its deficit to five with 4:43 to play in the period.
Iowa responded. It ended the third on a 13-6 spurt for a 12-point lead going into the fourth. Reserve Alexis Sevillian started things with a three-pointer. She hit another big one later on.
“They were closing in. They had a little bit of a run, but I think it was Lexi who hit a really big three in the corner and that gave us momentum,” Gustafson said.
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“You know, we love being able to just share the ball and get a great shot instead of a good shot and that’s what we did. You know, honestly we just love playing with each other. We feed off each other’s energy and I think that’s what kept us going.”
The Hawkeyes continued rolling from there, scoring five of the first seven points in the fourth quarter. It led by at least 13 the rest of the way and was ahead by as many as 21.
“I’m extremely happy for my team. They have worked so hard. They kept believing. They were positive. It’s been a magical year, and we don’t want to see it end,” Bluder said.
The task increases greatly against top-ranked Baylor (31-1). The Bears feature an imposing front line led by 6-7 Kalani Brown and 6-4 Lauren Cox, who combined for 35 points and 24 rebounds on Saturday.
“I think everyone in the country would look forward to that matchup, especially because they have got a couple of great post players, and me and Hannah have been working extremely hard over the course of our fours year,” Gustafson said.
“We’re just going to go into it, doesn’t matter who we play. We’re going to play our hearts out, that’s for sure.”