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Howe: More Family Time Trumps Legacy for Hawkeye Women

March 24, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

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IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa cemented its legacy Sunday afternoon here at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. These Hawkeyes reached the Sweet 16 for just the seventh time in program history.

The 68-52 win against seventh-seeded Missouri excited an impressive crowd of 12,376 fans, who will remember the game for the rest of their lives. Others who watched at home will look back fondly on this group of women.

That’s not what stood out to them, however. That was for other people to think about.

“We wanted to make it to the Sweet 16 because we know that’s a huge accomplishment, but it’s not about the legacy, it’s about this family being together, it’s about these women having the opportunity to go to battle for another week,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.

“It’s more than that. It’s not about legacy, it’s more about sentiment, it’s more about being together.”

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And, really, that’s why the second-seeded Hawkeyes (28-6) are still dancing. Chemistry and sticking together for a common goal goes a long way this time of year.

They turned the ball over 24 times Friday in escaping with a four-point win against 15th-seeded Mercer during Friday’s first round. Sunday, Missouri (24-11) had the game tied at 39-39 midway through the third quarter and the Hawkeyes led by just six heading into the final period.

However, whenever adversity hit this weekend, they rallied. They dove for loose balls and set each other up for baskets. They defended better than they had all season.

Senior center Megan Gustafson served as the center piece. She scored 24 points and grabbed 19 rebounds, becoming the Big Ten’s all-time leader on the glass. Missouri felt like they performed pretty well against the Wisconsin product, if that tells you anything about her ability.

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She’d be the first to share the credit. Fellow senior Tania Davis hit an enormous three-pointer at the beginning of the fourth quarter that sparked her team’s decisive run. Junior guards Kathleen Doyle and Makenzie Meyer combined for 33 points Sunday.

“Obviously everyone has had a hard time figuring it out this year,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “(Gustafson is) a load. Great footwork, great hands. But she’s got a great supporting cast, and I think those girls really know their roles. They know what’s expected. And they just play such unselfish basketball, and they executed really well.”

Like fine wine, Bluder is improving over time. The dean of Big Ten coaches has two Sweet 16 appearances in the last five seasons. This team wants more.

Despite being a No. 2 seed, outsiders don’t expect the Hawkeyes to stack up with the nation’s best. UConn, Notre Dame, Baylor, those are the teams viewed as contenders.

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“People say we’re from the middle of nowhere Iowa,” senior Hannah Stewart said “I think it’s cool to prove to people that no matter where you’re from as long as you go play basketball, play together and love each other, you can be successful.”

While the Hawkeyes were favorites here at home, they’ll become more of a Cinderella as they advance. That could start next weekend in Greensboro.

They don’t care. They’re playing for each other. They’ll think about how they’ll be remembered some other time.

“It means everything. To be able to keep playing with these seniors and this team,” Gustafson said. “I don’t want to be done with them and I know they don’t want to be done with me. We just fought for each other. Nobody was in it for themselves.

“That’s what got us through those two tough games.”

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