By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The longest winning streak among Big Ten women’s basketball teams belongs to the University of Iowa and the conference standings tightened after the Hawkeyes knocked off Rutgers, 72-66, on Wednesday in front of 6,035 on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The 14th-ranked Scarlet Knights (15-4 overall, 7-1 Big Ten) entered the contest with 10 straight wins, but No. 17 Iowa fed off another monster game from senior center Megan Gustafson to win its fourth in a row and improve to 15-4, 6-2.
Gustafson scored Iowa’s first 13 points and was perfect from the field (8 of 8) for the first 19:58 of the first half. She finished with 32 points on 13 of 16 shooting (6 of 7 from the line) and 12 rebounds (four offensive). It is her NCAA-leading 18th double-double of the season.
“We were patient on offense,” Gustafson said. “We knew what they were going to do defensively on us. They were going to do a lot of high-side and a lot of fronting — I love when teams do that. I took advantage of that and I have to credit my teammates for getting me the ball.”
After the game, both head coaches shook their head in amazement.
“What can you say about Megan’s performance again?” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said.
“She is truly the best center in the country, bar none,” said Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “The beautiful part about Gustafson is she runs and does everything at both ends of the floor. We had no answer for her, none.”
Iowa junior guard Kathleen Doyle scored 17 points with six assists, junior guard Makenzie Meyer had 11 points and was 6 of 6 from the line, and senior guard Tania Davis handed out six assists with three steals.
“Our whole team, our guards controlled the ball,” Bluder said. “We only have 12 turnovers against that kind of pressure defense. We have 19 assists on 24 baskets. They played Iowa basketball, they didn’t let Rutgers get us out of what we wanted to do and I’m proud of our team’s effort and focus.”
Included in that was a stretch by Iowa senior forward Hannah Stewart over the final three minutes that included a steal in the paint, a layup that put the Hawkeyes up, 65-62, a blocked shot, and a rebound. On top of that, Stewart defended Rutgers forward Stasha Carey and held her to seven second-half points and 17 for the game.
“Stasha Carey is a really good basketball player and I thought (Stewart) did a good job defending her for most of the second half as well,” Bluder said. “Her rebounds were critical, she had a critical layup as well.”
QUOTING COACH BLUDER
“It was a pretty happy locker room. That was a good win against a good opponent. Our team worked hard, they stayed focused, they were locked it. We took the lead in the second quarter and never gave it up and that can wear on an opponent when you can never get that lead back again.”
QUOTING RUTGERS COACH C. VIVIAN STRINGER
“We looked like we had been involved in a fire. We were rushing a lot of shots and fouling when we didn’t need to foul. We weren’t as disciplined as I have seen us, so I’m disappointed. I didn’t think we would play in such a frenzy.”
STATISTIC OF THE GAME
Iowa made 12 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter, including its final six (four by Meyer and two by Gustafson).
“We got to the free throw line a lot in the fourth quarter,” Bluder said. “We converted in that fourth quarter and that’s what good teams do. They are able to put games away by converting at the free throw line.”
The 72 points scored by Iowa were the most allowed by Rutgers this season (Drake scored 69 on Nov. 22). The Hawkeyes shot 50 percent from the field (24 of 48), a season-high against a Rutgers defense that came into Wednesday’s game allowing opponents to shoot just 31.4 percent from the field.
The Hawkeyes remain home Sunday when they host Purdue (14-6, 5-2) with a 2 p.m. (CT) tip. The Boilermakers, who defeated Iowa 62-57 on Jan. 10 in West Lafayette, Indiana, play at Minnesota on Thursday.
“We should have played better (against Purdue) and we will on Sunday,” Bluder said. “We’re going to have a great crowd here, we are going to be prepared for them.”