A total team effort from the Iowa Hawkeyes in Greensboro, North Carolina propelled the Iowa Hawkeyes to a 79-61 win over the NC State Wolfpack. For the first time in Lisa Bluder’s illustrious career, she’s sending the Hawkeyes to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1993.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our team and how much heart we showed on the court today,” Megan Gustafson told ESPN court-side after the game. “[NC State] went on some really great runs, [they’re] a great team, and I’m so glad with how we played.”
And she was exactly right. Yes, Gustafson scored 27 points and grabbed 13 rebounds (her 33rd double-double of the season, which ties an NCAA record, nbd or anything), but she’s not the complete story. The 6’5 senior struggled to get going offensively thanks to the size of NC State’s forwards double-teaming, but Gustafson was able to show her passing skills as well, and her teammates responded.
Fellow senior Hannah Stewart tallied her third career double-double thanks to an excellent 16 point, 10 rebound performance. She was joined in the double-digit scoring column by Tania Davis, who scored 10 points and dished out 6 assists, and Makenzie Meyer and Kathleen Doyle both tallied 9 points as well. Seven of the eight Hawkeyes that saw playing time scored at least one field goal, and the team assisted on 24 of 31 field goals.
Just as it was a team effort on the offensive side of the floor, so was it on the other end of the floor for Iowa. The Wolfpack’s leading scorer Kiara Leslie was held to 16 points on 6-20 FGs, and bigs DD Rogers and Elissa Cunane were held to 12 and 14 points, respectively.
The Hawks benefited from NC State’s good looks from beyond the arc rimming out, because points were at a premium early in the game for the Hawkeyes. But Makenzie Meyer was open at the top of the key as the Wolfpack doubled Megan Gustafson on the right low post, and gave the Hawkeyes a 5-3 lead with 6:30 left in the first quarter.
NC State were double teaming Gustafson on every early possession, which freed Meyer to get two early three pointers. The Hawkeyes also scored their first bench points of the entire NCAA Tournament (which, frankly is wild) courtesy of Amanda Ollinger. But NC State always had an early response, and the Hawks went into the first tv timeout with a 10-9 lead.
Between Cunane and Rogers, the Wolfpack definitely had the length to contain Gustafson. She didn’t attempt her first shot attempt with just over three minutes left in the first quarter, and Cunane blocked the shot with ease. But never to be shut down completely, Gustafson responded on the next possession with another FG attempt and drew Cunane into a pivotal first foul. And so began an 8-0 run from the Hawkeyes that led to a 16-9 lead with 1:45 left in the first quarter.
Iowa entered the second quarter with a 16-11 lead, after leaving Leslie scoreless in the first period. After the Hawkeyes proved they could make open looks from double teams, Gustafson took advantage of single coverage from Cunane immediately and drew an and-1 that sent Cunane to the bench. NC State responded with a quick three, but Stewart responded again with her third field goal of the game. Doyle got a steal on the ensuing possession and an easy layup, and after another defensive stop, Tania Davis got into the scoring column with a corner three.
Suddenly a small Iowa lead turned into a 26-14 lead that caused Wolfpack head coach Wes Moore to call a timeout with 7:30 left in the first half. Out of the timeout, NC State showed some life, but Iowa was able to maintain its double-digit lead and the Hawkeyes went into the half with a 37-24 lead.
Things got interesting in the third quarter. The Wolfpack frankly came out of the break with more intensity than the Hawkeyes. Leslie got going immediately, and the Wolfpack drew within nine at 41-32. A big part of this was a 12-2 advantage in points in the paint for NC State.
The Wolfpack were able to bring the Iowa lead down to as little as five, until Lisa Bluder dug into the bench and the Hawkeyes got the lead back up to 10, thanks to a corner three from Alexis Sullivan, and a mini 4-0 run from Gustafson. Davis and Stewart rounded out the scoring for the rest of the third quarter as Gustafson rested, and the Hawkeyes entered the fourth quarter with a 56-44 lead.
The Hawkeyes came out strong to start the final quarter, scoring on their first three possessions, and ripped off a 12-6 run to get the lead up to 68-53, and from there, the lead just continued to grow, getting up to as many as 20.
Now, the Elite Eight awaits the Hawkeyes on Monday. We’ll find out later today whether they’ll face No. 1 seed Baylor or No. 4 seed South Carolina, but regardless, this team will have its work cut out for it.
But that’s to be expected when you’re only three wins removed from a national title. And this team has shown time and time again that it can win, and I can’t wait to see what happens.