By JAMES ALLAN
INDIANAPOLIS — They practiced cutting down the nets prior to the Big Ten Tournament in Iowa City and on Sunday in Indy, they got to do it for real.
Senior Megan Gustafson scored a Big Ten Tournament championship game record 45 points to propel the second-seeded University of Iowa women’s basketball team to a 90-76 victory over top-seeded Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament title game inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The title is the third in program history and the first since 2001, which came during head coach Lisa Bluder’s first season at Iowa.
“It is a dream come true,” said Gustafson. “I have been visualizing this all four years. I remember watching the girls from last year’s tournament and the years before that. It has been exciting; we have put a lot of effort, focus, and preparation into this tournament.
“We had a chip on our shoulder because we didn’t get the regular season championships, but it’s all worth it right now.”
Gustafson, the Big Ten Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, was a one-woman wrecking crew, scoring 11 points in the first quarter and 26 by halftime. She made 17-of-24 field goals and 11-of-14 attempts from the free throw stripe in the game.
She also pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds to record her 30th double-double of the season.
“I wanted to put everything into this game, I didn’t care how tired I was,” said Gustafson. “My teammates put everything into it and we had belief at the beginning all the way to the end.”
Iowa took a 51-45 lead into the half before Maryland used an early second-half surge to tie the game at 53 with 7:21 left in the third quarter. Gustafson capitalized on a Terrapin turnover as Iowa regained the lead and junior Kathleen Doyle followed with two free throws to put Iowa up 57-53.
The Hawkeyes never trailed again.
Iowa used a 6-0 spurt to build a 65-58 lead and Gustafson’s second-chance hook shot extended the Iowa lead to 69-60 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Hawkeyes put their foot on the gas in the fourth as a Tania Davis 3-pointer opened a 72-60 lead 16 seconds into the quarter and a three-point play from Gustafson extended the lead to 77-62 with 6:26 left.
Maryland never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way as Iowa moved to 26-6 heading NCAA Tournament play in Iowa City in two weeks.
After falling behind 7-2 to start the game, the Hawkeyes got on a roll, scoring 15 straight points to grab a 17-7 lead. Iowa shot 62.5 percent in the first quarter, making 10-of-16 field goal attempts.
Iowa pushed its lead to 14 early in the second quarter on back-to-back 3-pointers from Alexis Sevillian and Makenzie Meyer. Maryland closed the gap to five points at the break thanks to a 57.9 percent quarter, including 16 from Kaila Charles.
The Hawkeyes shot 51.7 percent from the field and the team made 25-of-30 free throws. Maryland shot 44.1 percent, but went just 3-of-13 from 3-point range. Iowa scored 18 points off 16 Terrapin turnovers.
Charles was the only Maryland player in double figures, finishing with 36 points, but she needed 30 attempts to get there. Charles was 15-of-30 from the field and pulled down a team-high nine rebounds.
Davis and Doyle joined Gustafson in double figures for the Hawkeyes. Davis scored 14 points, making 9-of-10 free throws, while Doyle had 13 points and five rebounds.
- Gustafson and senior Hannah Stewart were named to the five-player Big Ten All-Tournament team. Gustafson scored 95 points (31.7 points per game) in three tournament games.
- It was Gustafson’s third 40-point game of the season and three points off her career-high set in the 2018 Big Ten Tournament. She has an NCAA-leading 12 games with 30 or more points.
- Gustafson pulled in 10 rebounds for her 30th double-double of the season and her 85th career double-double.
- Iowa’s starters accounted for 87 of the team’s 90 points. Sevillian’s 3-pointer were the Hawkeyes’ only points off the bench.
ON THE HORIZON
The Hawkeyes will host NCAA Tournament games on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena from March 22-25. Dates and opponents will be announced on the NCAA Selection Show on March 18.