The Breakdown: Hawkeyes Survive and Advance

March 22, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

Lisa Bluder, Gustafson, Meyer Press Conference

Gustafson, Davis, Doyle 1 on 1 Interviews

Mercer Postgame

Photo Gallery

Box Score

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa might be covering its eyes a lot while watching film from Friday’s NCAA Tournament game against Mercer. The Hawkeyes will like the ending, however.

They overcame a sloppy performance to knock off upset-minded Mercer, 66-61, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament here at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Second-seeded Iowa advanced to meet No. 7 Missouri in the second round back here on Sunday.

Iowa (27-6) committed 24 turnovers on Friday to only three by 15th-seeded Mercer (25-8). The Bears led by two points with 4:19 left in regulation.

The partisan crowd of 10,720 helped rally its Hawkeyes from there, however. They finished the game on a 9-2 run.

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“I’m just so proud that we’re able to keep going,” said star center Megan Gustafson, who finished with 30 points and 16 rebounds. “Survive and advance, that’s what it’s all about at this point. Nobody cares how it looked as long as we keep winning.”

Fellow senior Hannah Stewart added 12 points and 11 rebounds for the winners, while junior Makenzie Meyer contributed 16 points and six boards. Her 5 of 7 shooting on three-pointers proved big with Mercer collapsing inside on Gustafson.

Many of Iowa’s turnovers came from forcing the ball to Gustafson in the post. The Bears pressured the ball and surrounded the Hawkeye star on the entry feed. Meyer and fellow Iowa guards, Kathleen Doyle and Tania Davis, combined for 14 of the giveaways.

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“That was the ugliest win I’ve ever been a part of, that’s for sure,” Doyle said.

The Hawkeyes made up for their miscues by getting to the basket, both through Gustafson on the block and in driving the lane against ball pressure. It resulted in a dominating 40-16 advantage on points in the paint. They shot 28 of 51 (54.9 percent) from the floor.

After a leaky third quarter allowing 24 points and eight offensive rebounds, Iowa locked things up in the final period. Mercer notched just 10 points during the last 10 minutes, and the Hawkeyes enjoyed a 15-6 advantage on the boards.

“We got stops. We did a much better job finishing the possession in the fourth quarter versus the third quarter,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.

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Iowa won its first NCAA Tournament game in four seasons. It’s the first time any of these players experienced victory in the Big Dance.

Nerves were a factor at some points during Friday’s game. The element of win-or-go-home brings a a whole other vibe.

“It’s not a regular-season game. Our season is on the line,” Davis said. “I feel like we were definitely tense at some moments, and I feel like with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, we just started playing intense rather than tense. That was definitely the turning point for us.”

The Hawkeyes feel confident they will shake off the turnover bug that bit them on Friday and play a cleaner game against Missouri Sunday. The Tigers likely will follow the Mercer blueprint in pressuring the ball and doubling Gustafson.

“We know that our season is on the line every time we step out on that floor now,” Doyle said. “I think that’s how we felt with like five minutes left, down one, it doesn’t feel good. It was kind of mentality that it’s not going to happen this way. We’re going to lock down defensively, we’re going to get stops and we’re going to win this game.”

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