Beating Baylor was always going to be difficult for Iowa. The Bears have two posts taller than Megan Gustafson who excel on both ends of the floor. Their guards are fast and very effective at hitting mid-range jumpers. And Baylor has plenty of experience. Bears players have played in multiple Sweet 16s and Elite 8s. To win, Iowa was going to need to play its best game of the year. To be even better than it was only two days ago against North Carolina State.
Needless to say, the Hawks did not play their best game of the season. And, unfortunately, one of the best seasons for an Iowa team ends in the Elite 8. Iowa fell to Baylor on Monday night, 85-53.
Iowa did a good job of playing with Baylor in the game’s opening minutes. The Bears jumped out to a lead, but Iowa battled back to square things at 11 thanks primarily to a hot start from Gustafson. Then, Baylor slowly but surely started asserting their dominance on both ends of the floor. Every Iowa basket was a struggle. Every defensive stop seemed like a rare, hard-earned victory. Baylor, meanwhile, got good look after good look. The Bears built an 8-point lead at the end of the first quarter, and stretched it to 14 at halftime.
Iowa continued to fight in the second half, but never got the game back within single digits. Instead, Baylor slowly but surely continued to expand its lead. Once it became apparent the game was out of reach late in the third, the floodgates opened and Baylor ran away with things, barely missing a shot in the fourth quarter, while continuing to play great defense. The Bears ultimately won by 32.
Gustafson led Iowa once again with 23 points and 9 rebounds. She showed, especially in the first half, that her stats were no fluke. She can score and rebound that well regardless of the opponent. Near the end of the game, she got the reward for her season’s effort by becoming only the 4th player in Division 1 history to eclipse 1,000 points in a single season. What a year and what a career she had.
Tania Davis and Kathleen Doyle were second on the team in scoring with 10 points apiece. Hannah Stewart ended her Iowa career with 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals. A box score for the game is here.
The first half could’ve been closer than it was. Iowa missed several shots around the basket, and that only exacerbated their offensive problems. Had some of those shots fallen and the game stayed close, perhaps things might’ve turned out differently.
But even if Iowa had done better on offense, its defense was always going to be a problem. Baylor just had too many weapons. If it wasn’t the Baylor posts doing damage, it was the guards hitting short jumpers. Or causing a turnover and getting a basket in transition. Part of upsetting one of the best teams in the nation is having that team not play well. Baylor didn’t cooperate with that today.
One tough game can’t take away from what was otherwise a phenomenal season, however. The Hawkeyes hadn’t been to an Elite 8 in 26 years. They hadn’t won a Big Ten Tournament in nearly two decades. And they’ve never had a player like Megan Gustafson.
But this season was more than even those accomplishments. Iowa showed how much fun a group of players and coaches can have playing basketball. They showed how to overcome adversity to accomplish all your goals. And for all those reasons and many more, we’ll remember them.
I’ll finish this piece and this season with a request: keep watching Iowa women’s basketball. This was a special season and a special team, but there will be more to come in the future. New players will emerge as the face of teams with the same goals and dreams as this one. And those future players and coaches deserve our support. For the work they put in. For the amazing memories and thrills they can give us. And because the support of fans like us can help make all the difference when things get tough or the games are close.
As always, go Hawks!