By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The point guard who has overcome two knee surgeries is from Flint, Michigan. The power forward who paid her dues on the bench before starting this season is from Minot, North Dakota. The greatest of all-time is from Port Wing, Wisconsin.
Their names are Tania Davis (guard), Hannah Stewart (forward), and Megan Gustafson (center).
“All three of those women are from out of state; all three of them would be considered Iowans right now,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said Wednesday at a news conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “They consider themselves Iowans, they believe in the University of Iowa, and they believe in this team so much.”
Together, the trio of University of Iowa women’s basketball seniors has combined for 85 wins. On Sunday at 3 p.m. (CT), they will play their final regular-season game against Northwestern on Mediacom Court in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Bluder fought back tears twice during the 14-minute meeting with media, saying she didn’t want this week arrive. The 12th-rated Hawkeyes are 22-6 overall, 13-4 in the Big Ten and have won 18 consecutive home games, including a 14-0 mark this season.
“It is going to be tough,” Bluder said. “They are a good group and they have been through so much together.”
Davis started 16 games as a freshman and 23 as a sophomore before an ACL injury derailed the final 11 games of her sophomore season. She started the first 12 games as a junior before a second ACL injury sidelined her again.
“She didn’t have to come back, nobody was making her come back,” Buder said. “She was going to (keep) her scholarship, she was going to graduate. But it meant that much for her to represent her team and play with these guys. Her love of the game is so strong. She has an amazing IQ, she is passionate about learning the game, she is a competitor.”
In 28 games this season, Davis averages 10.9 points and 4.6 assists. She has made a team-high 44 3-point field goals and shoots 86 percent from the free throw line.
“I would describe my four years here as a roller coaster and thanks to everyone who has been there on that journey with me, encouraging me, and pushing me to get to where I am today,” Davis said.
Stewart essentially spent two years in the background (averaging 7.8 minutes in 46 games) working her tail off in an attempt to earn a starting role. She has been a two-year team captain.
“What she has contributed on the floor has been amazing,” Bluder said. “But what I admire about Hannah is she is such a great leader, has such good values, and is a strong woman of faith.”
As a freshman, sophomore, and junior, Stewart played in 78 games with zero starts. She has started all 28 games this season and averages 11.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Stewart is shooting 56 percent from the field.
“It has been a huge payoff to perseverance and hard work, especially when you don’t see (playing time) early on,” Stewart said. “Every time I get to step out in Carver and hear my name called, it’s like all of the hard work and bench minutes have paid off since freshman year.”
Like many, Bluder is at a loss to find innovative ways to define the All-American Gustafson, who owns school records in scoring and rebounding.
“What do I say about Megan anymore?” Bluder said. “She is an amazing, talented basketball player, one of the best in the United States.”
Already a two-time, first-team All Big-Ten performer, with a 27.4 scoring and 13.3 rebounding average — as well as shooting better than 70 percent from the field — Gustafson is a shoo-in for league Player of the Year honors. She leads the country in points per game and field goal percentage and is third in rebounding.
“My expectations were about putting the effort in no matter what it was and trying to prove myself every single day,” Gustafson said. “I wanted to work as hard as I possibly could and see what happened after that.”
For the Feb. 17 home game against Maryland, the Hawkeyes drew nearly 11,000 fans. Bluder expects to top that and then some Sunday. Although the record of 22,157 set in 1985 is out of reach, she thinks the second-highest total in school history is attainable.
“I’m anticipating the biggest crowd in Carver since C. Vivian Stringer was here and we had 22,000 (on Feb. 3, 1985),” Bluder said. “I think we are going to have that kind of crowd on Sunday and rightfully so for this whole team trying to go undefeated on their home court and for these three seniors.
“I think it is going to be an emotional ceremony afterward and I don’t think anyone is going to want to miss it.”
Northwestern is 16-12 this season, 9-8 in the Big Ten. The Wildcats are coming off a 69-49 win at Indiana on Feb. 26. Just five days earlier, the Hoosiers defended their home court against Iowa, 75-73.
This will be a final guaranteed opportunity to wave farewell to Iowa’s three seniors. (Carver-Hawkeye Arena is still a possibility to host NCAA Tournament games.)
It will be hard to say goodbye.
“I’m a mom of three, so I’m supposed to prepare my kids, right? As a mother you are supposed to prepare your children to go out and conquer the world when they leave the nest,” Bluder said. “You’re supposed to do the same thing for your players and that’s what I hope I have done.”
To purchase tickets for the Northwestern-Iowa Senior Day game, click HERE.