It was the biggest game for Iowa women’s basketball in at least half a decade. #10 Iowa vs. #8 Maryland. On the line, a Big Ten Tournament championship and a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa was unaffected by the big stage early. The Hawks jumped out to a 17-7 lead midway through the first quarter, thanks to a 15-0 run. Megan Gustafson was dominant in the post from the opening tip, and Iowa’s guards started well, too, hitting a couple big three-pointers. Iowa was also disrupting Maryland defensively with a triangle and two, and Maryland was slow to adjust their offense accordingly.
Iowa carried that initial momentum through much of the first quarter. Then in the quarter’s final few seconds, Kathleen Doyle picked up two quick fouls within seconds of each other, and was forced to the bench. The Hawks still had a 25-15 lead heading to quarter number two, but would be without their best perimeter defender for all of it.
Maryland took advantage of Doyle’s absence. After withstanding a hot second quarter start from Iowa, the Terps pushed the tempo and found easy shots around the basket as their reward. Iowa’s lead was soon back under double-digits, and by halftime, it was only six at 51-45.
Maryland’s momentum continued into the third quarter. Iowa started the period slow, going 0-7 from the field to start, and the Terps took advantage, quickly tying the game. From there, the two teams battled back and forth for much of the quarter.
Finally Iowa regained some momentum at the end of the third quarter. Doyle began to attack the basket more off the dribble, and scored a couple buckets that took some of the scoring pressure off of Gustafson. Those buckets also slowed Maryland down, and Iowa locked down defensively, forcing Maryland into tougher shots that it finally started to miss. That strong defense combined with Doyle and Gustafson’s buckets helped Iowa pull out to a 9-point lead at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter began much the same as the third quarter ended. Iowa continued to ride Gustafson offensively, and got just enough help from her supporting cast to keep making baskets. Defensively, Iowa continued to rack up stops as they frustrated Maryland by closing off the lane. Iowa’s lead ballooned as high as 16 in the middle portion of the quarter, and Maryland never got the lead under double-digits the rest of the way. Iowa ultimately closed out a dominant 90-76 victory to capture their first Big Ten Tournament trophy since 2001.
What can you say about Megan Gustafson that hasn’t been said already? She’s a phenomenal player, and she was at her absolute best today, scoring 45 points, grabbing 10 boards, and adding 3 blocks defensively. There are plenty of great players around the country, but none of them have had a season close to Gustafson’s statistically. Then, when the stage was biggest and her team needed her most, she dropped 45 on a very good Maryland team that is usually stout defensively. Gustafson should be the Player of the Year in women’s college basketball. End of story. If she’s not, the voters for those respective awards aren’t paying enough attention.
Kathleen Doyle was also huge in this one, scoring 13 points, to go with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. Her defense was a big reason Maryland started so slow, and her penetration to the rim in the third quarter gave Iowa the boost they needed to get separation late in the 3rd.
The rest of Iowa’s supporting cast was nearly as good. Tania Davis added 14 points, including going 9-10 from the free throw line. Her ball handling and leadership were evident throughout. Hannah Stewart scored 8 points and grabbed 9 rebounds, doing just enough to compliment Gustafson’s phenomenal efforts in the post. And Makenzie Meyer hit a couple more three-pointers, capping off a really good shooting tournament for her. A box score for the game is here.
This was a phenomenal win for the program, and it couldn’t have happened to a better group of women. This team is closer than any I’ve seen in college basketball, constantly picking each other up and encouraging someone when they’re down. Even through the rougher moments of the season, they stayed united, and their reward is a Big Ten Tournament championship. Props to the players and coaches for their hard work and chemistry. It all paid off today.
Iowa actually gets quite a bit of time to enjoy their victory. The NCAA Tournament bracket for women’s basketball isn’t released until a week from tomorrow (Monday, March 18), and the first games don’t tip until Friday, March 22.
When things do tip off, Iowa will almost certainly be a #2 seed in the tournament with home court advantage in the tournament’s first two rounds. That means at least one, and likely two, more opportunities for Iowa fans to watch Gustafson and the Hawks do their thing in Carver.
Beyond that, it’s only speculation until the bracket is released. We’ll have analysis of Iowa’s opponents and the road ahead when it comes out. Until then, it’s time to celebrate this team, this championship, and the best women’s basketball player in the country.
And because there's no better way to celebrate a Big Ten championship: