After a tough start in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, Iowa needed a rebound performance. Sure, the Hawks won their first game against Mercer, but they hadn’t looked good in doing so. They had turned the ball over far too much and had surrendered too many open jumpers. A similar game against Missouri would lead to a second-round tournament exit.
Luckily, a rebound performance is exactly what Iowa got. The Hawks took care of the ball, got good contributions from their guards, and played stifling defense. The result was a 68-52 victory over Missouri and a trip to the Sweet 16.
Iowa actually started the game fairly sluggishly. Defensively, the starters allowed too much dribble penetration and that gave Missouri open looks around the rim or wide open three-pointers when the defense collapsed. Iowa also struggled to score early, as Missouri collapsed on Gustafson in the post and forced the Hawks into long jumpers that didn’t fall. Iowa was down as many as six in the first, and ended the quarter down 20-16 after a Missouri half-court shot at the buzzer.
In the second quarter, the game shifted. Iowa’s guards started attacking, and drew a couple fouls against Missouri’s best player, Sophie Cunningham, forcing her to the bench. Iowa’s offense then opened up. Makenzie Meyer hit a couple big three pointers, forcing Missouri’s perimeter defenders to step out and guard her. When they did, Gustafson took advantage of the extra space, spurring an Iowa run. By the time it was done, Iowa had turned a 7-point deficit into a 4-point halftime lead.
The third quarter was a battle. Both teams hit some big shots early, and Missouri tied the game in the middle of the quarter. Then Iowa’s defense locked down, and held Missouri to two points in the final fiveand a half minutes of the quarter. The Hawkeyes used that tough defense to build a 6-point lead at the end of three.
Somehow, Iowa’s defense got even better in the fourth. The Hawks kept Missouri out of the paint, and forced turnovers or long jumpers that didn’t fall. The Tigers scored just two points in the first seven and a half minutes of the quarter. Iowa, meanwhile, started to score again offensively. Soon their lead was in double digits, and the Hawks didn’t look back from there. The lead got as high as 20 in the quarter, before ending at 16. All told, Iowa held Missouri to four points in 13 minutes during the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters.
Gustafson led Iowa with 24 points and 19 rebounds. Meyer also had a stellar game, with 18 points on 4-7 shooting from three. She played perhaps her best half as a Hawkeye in the first half, and was excellent overall. Kathleen Doyle was Iowa’s last double-digit scorer with 13 points and 3 steals. She was a disruptive force on defense, and also unlocked Missouri’s defense with some key drives to the basket. Cunningham scored only 8 points in the game for Missouri, after averaging 18 during the season. A box score for the game is here.
After turning the ball over 24 times against Mercer, Iowa took care of the ball much better today. The Hawks had only 11 turnovers in the game, and several of those came late in the fourth quarter once things were out of reach. Overall, Iowa’s guards were much improved today, and the performances of Davis, Doyle, and Meyer were even more impressive considering they played most of the game.
Finally, a tip of the hat to the crowd in this one. Iowa sold over 12,000 tickets for the game, and the crowd was a constant presence, picking up the team when they were down, and getting loud when momentum was shifting. It was a great atmosphere to conclude a wonderful season in which Iowa was perfect at home.
Iowa now moves onto the Sweet 16 in Greensboro, North Carolina next weekend. They will play the winner of #3 seed North Carolina State and #6 seed Kentucky.
The Wolfpack have overcome an injury plagued season to finish as the top #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They are 27-5 overall and finished third in the ACC behind Notre Dame and Louisville. In terms of common opponents, they beat Michigan State by 4, Michigan by 11, and, like Iowa, lost big against Notre Dame. What makes a potential match-up with NC State tough is that Greensboro would be a virtual home game for them. Thanks, Selection Committee.
Kentucky is 25-7 this year, good enough for a fourth-place finish in the SEC. The Wildcats split matchups with Missouri this season, winning by 11 at home, then falling by 2 in the SEC Tournament.
Regardless of opponent, if Iowa plays like they did today, they’ll have a great shot of advancing to the Elite 8.