By JAMES ALLAN
INDIANAPOLIS — The Hawkeyes are one win away from cutting down the nets in Indy.
The second-seeded University of Iowa women’s basketball team advanced to its first Big Ten Tournament title game since 2014 with a 72-67 victory over third-seeded Rutgers on Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Senior Megan Gustafson posted her double-double, finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds, but it was the Hawkeyes supporting cast that stepped up to the occasion.
Senior Hannah Stewart scored eight first-quarter points (when Gustafson was limited to a late field goal) and she finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Junior Makenzie Meyer made three 3-pointers en route to a 13-point outing, and senior Tania Davis scored nine points — none bigger than a 3-pointer from the corner with 1:36 remaining with the Hawkeyes clinging to a 65-62 lead.
“Hannah was outstanding, 6-for-7 from the field and grabbing seven rebounds,” said Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder. “Hannah played well. Mackenzie hit some great 3s, and Tania hit a great 3 at the end of the game and buried both of her free throws when they were fouling and trying to put us at the free throw line.
“It was great execution by those guys.”
The Hawkeyes led 37-23 at the half before blowing the game open in the third quarter. Iowa pushed its lead to 20 points on a Kathleen Doyle 3-pointer. Iowa led 53-33 with 4:17 remaining in the quarter before the Scarlet Knights started chipping away.
“We dissected their press for the first three quarters then we got lackadaisical,” said Bluder. “We got the big lead and let up a little bit and they pounced. They hit some deep 3s and we turned it over too many times.”
By the end of the third quarter, Iowa’s lead was 57-44. Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes were clinging to a one-possession lead at 61-58.
Stewart’s first field goal of the second half put Iowa up 63-58. The two teams traded field goals until the two-minute mark when Doyle drove and kicked to Davis for the big corner 3.
“We have resilience and the confidence in each other is something I haven’t really experienced,” said Stewart. “They went on their little run, but there was never a doubt in any of our heads that we weren’t going to win.”
The Hawkeyes shot 50 percent from the field, made six 3-pointers, and went 12-of-13 from the free throw stripe. Rutgers forced Iowa into committing 17 turnovers and it turned those miscues into 20 points.
The Scarlet Knights shot 41.9 percent and made seven 3-pointers. Four Rutgers players reached double figures, led by Arella Guirantes’ 16 points.
AND WE MEET AGAIN…
Top-seeded Maryland held off fourth-seeded Michigan, 73-72, to advance to its fifth straight Big Ten Tournament title game.
“Those dang Terrapins… they’re a great team,” said Stewart. “They have been in the championship for how many of the past years. We really want to take it this year and we know we have the talent to do that. We’re going to do what we can to stop them, they have a lot of weapons, but so do we.
“It’s going to be a fun game.”
The only meeting of the season came on Feb. 17 in Iowa City — an 86-73 Iowa victory.
“It was a 13-point game, but it was a lot closer,” said Bluder. “It was a three point game with 2 1/2 minutes to go. I anticipate it is going to be an amazing, competitive game tomorrow.”
QUOTING HEAD COACH LISA BLUDER
“I told the players there are 14 teams in this conference, it’s one of the toughest conferences in America, and we’re playing for a championship tomorrow. We don’t just want to play in the championship game, we want to win it.”
- Gustafson broke her own single-season rebounding record. Her 414 rebounds this season bested her 2018-19 mark of 411.
- Gustafson registered her 84th career double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds). Her 29 double doubles this season breaks her own single-season record (2017-18).
- This is the first time Iowa has played in the Big Ten Tournament title game since 2014. The fifth-seeded Hawkeyes fell to third-seeded Nebraska, 74-72.
ON THE HORIZON
Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament title game will begin at 5 p.m. (CT) on Sunday. The game will be televised on ESPN2.