Today’s game for Iowa was mostly meaningless. Iowa had already secured the #2 seed in the Big Ten Conference, and likely had secured a Top-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament as well. For Iowa’s seniors, though, the game was full of meaning. It was the last time they were guaranteed to step on their home floor. Perhaps the last time they would get to play in front of their home fans. Thankfully, Iowa sent them out with a resounding victory.
The game started off slow, as Iowa’s lead was only 15-11 after one quarter, and 28-23 at halftime. Northwestern plays a fairly compact zone, and is also fairly physical guarding the post. It was difficult for Iowa to break that down initially, and they struggled to score early as a result.
In the second half, Iowa’s posts finally started to take over, and they extended their lead to 14 heading into the fourth quarter. Iowa’s defense stayed solid in the final period, and they cruised home to a 74-50 victory.
Megan Gustafson led Iowa with 34 points and 12 rebounds on 14-17 shooting. Hannah Stewart also had a big game, with 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. Kathleen Doyle was the final Hawkeye in double figures with 12 points. She also had 7 assists. Stats for the game are here.
Instead of discussing what was a fairly easy victory, let’s talk instead about Iowa’s seniors.
That starts with Iowa’s biggest star: Megan Gustafson. Megan established herself as a great player her sophomore year. Then she topped it her junior season, becoming an All-America and co-Big Ten Player of the Year. This year, she somehow played even better, and she’ll be a part of the National Player of the Year discussion when the time comes. She’s also in the conversation for the best Iowa women’s basketball player of all time, and will certainly have her number retired sometime in the near future.
As good as Gustafson is as a player, you always hear the coaches and players say she’s just as good of a person. In interviews, she’s quick to credit her teammates and coaches, and her energy on the floor is infectious. There will undoubtedly be more great players in the future for Iowa, but there won’t be another like Megan Gustafson.
Tania Davis has gone through a lot in her career. She was having a good sophomore season until she went down with an ACL injury. Undeterred, she rebounded from that and was having a good junior season until it happened again. With two major injuries in less than one calendar year, Davis could’ve given up. She could’ve called it a career and forever thought about what might’ve been.
Instead, she battled back again. This year, she’s been a tremendous leader for Iowa. She’s their most consistent three point shooter, and is very effective at driving to the basket despite being the shortest player on the floor. Perhaps most importantly of all, though, she’s Iowa’s closer. Time after time when Iowa needed a big shot this year, Davis answered the bell. Most notably, she hit the game winning three against Iowa State with only seconds remaining.
Finally, there’s Hannah Stewart. For a couple years now, Stewart has been one of the better posts in the conference. But Iowa’s had Gustafson for all of those years, and Chase Coley was a good post too, meaning Stewart hadn’t ever started or played as big a role as she might’ve elsewhere. In today’s environment of frequent transfers, it would’ve been easy for Stewart to look to another school for a guaranteed starting spot. She didn’t. Instead, she worked hard to help Iowa any way she could off the bench. This year, Stewart’s effort was rewarded with a starting spot. She responded well, averaging over 11 points and 6 rebound per game.
As fans, it’s easy for the human side of sports to be lost on us. After all, we really only see Iowa’s players on the court, not off it. But this senior class has given us more than big moments to remember on the court. Megan Gustafson has shown us how to be humble and kind even while being one of the best in the world at what she does. Hannah Stewart has shown us how to keep fighting hard for what you want if it’s not given to you right away. And Tania Davis has shown us how to be resilient in the face of adversity completely out of her control. For those lessons, and for the many exciting moments they’ve given us, we thank them today.
Big Ten Final Standings
1) 15-3 #8 Maryland
2) 14-4 #12 Iowa
3) 13-5 Rutgers
4) 11-7 Michigan
By finishing second in the Big Ten standings, Iowa earns a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament. As a result, their first game of the tournament isn’t until Friday, March 8 at approximately 5:30 PM CT on BTN. They will play either #7 seed Minnesota or #10 seed Indiana.
Iowa played each of those opponents once, defeating Minnesota by 18 on the road in January, and losing a heartbreaker at Indiana a couple weeks ago. Those results are somewhat deceiving, however, as Minnesota was playing its worst basketball of the year when Iowa faced them. The Gophers have been on a run lately, and will be a tough match-up should Iowa face them.
Should Iowa win their first game of the tournament, they will face the winner of: #14 seed Illinois, #11 seed Purdue, #6 seed Nebraska, and #3 seed Rutgers in the Big Ten Semifinal on Saturday. That game tips at approximately 6:30 PM on Saturday night.