For just the second time in head coach Lisa Bluder’s career, her Hawkeye squad is headed to Greensboro, North Carolina for the Sweet 16, where they’ll face off against North Carolina State. The game tips off Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. CT (yikes) and can be seen on ESPN.
The Hawkeyes, as you know, are fresh off a 68-52 win over the Missouri Tigers in front of 12,000 fans at Carver, where the Hawkeyes capped off an undefeated home season. During that game, destroyer of worlds Megan Gustafson also became the Big Ten’s all time leading rebounder during that game, in which she tallied 24 points and 19 rebounds; she now has 1438 boards in her career.
As for the next round, the No. 2 seeded Hawkeyes are facing off against the No. 3 seed NC State. They’ll enter the Sweet 16 matchup with a 27-5 record coming off a 72-57 beatdown of Kentucky in the second round. This is an interesting matchup for Iowa that could present them
The Wolfpack are similar to the Hawkeyes in that they have multiple players of scoring double-digit points on a nightly basis. They’re led in the scoring column by graduate senior guard Kiara Leslie, who drops 15.9 points per game, and dropped a mere 26 against the Wildcats last weekend. Center Elissa Cunane averages 13.6, and Aislinn Konig and Grace Hunter also average in 10+ points per game. The Wolfpack, however, are led in rebounding by senior DD Rogers, who grabs nearly eight rebounds per game, while Leslie averages seven.
It’s clear from that scouting report alone that Iowa will have its work cut out for it at every position. Obviously Gustafson will be battling against Cunane and Rogers beneath the basket for rebounds, as she always does. Cunane in particular is 6’5 and could present trouble for the slightly smaller Gustafson. But if the Hawkeyes can draw her into foul trouble like they did against Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham, things get much easier in the post and Iowa can choose between having a strong low post presence or kicking the ball out to its guards, in particular Makenzie Meyer, who are capable of heating up from deep.
Speaking of guard play, the matchup at guard will be very interesting as well. The Wolfpack are a strong defensive team, and will probably put Leslie on Meyer if I had to guess, to make sure her deep scoring is contained. Meyer has been on a tear going back to the Big Ten Tournament, and stopping her will be a big point of emphasis for NC State.
But if I had to guess, I’d say this will be a game that’s won or lost for the Hawkeyes underneath the basket. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rogers and Cunane double teaming Gustafson at times, but they’ll have to be careful, as pretty much any of Iowa’s starters are capable of making open looks with ease. Just look at the scoring breakdown from the Missouri win for an example of that.
The Hawkeyes have their work cut out for them, however. NC State was the last undefeated team in NCAA Women’s Basketball until they lost to North Carolina, 64-51 back in February, where they lost four total games against teams like Notre Dame and Louisville.
But this Iowa team is special, and I think it starts with containing Leslie, and getting good looks, whether they’re from Gustafson, Meyer, or Tania Davis. The Hawkeyes can score in waves for sure, but NC State might be the toughest defense they’ve faced all year.
Go Hawks, I don’t want this season to end.