And then there was one.
After four Big Ten teams made it out of the first round, only the Hawkeyes of Iowa will be representing the conference in this year’s Sweet 16.
The No. 2 seeded Hawkeyes began the tournament with a bit of a scare in the first round, barely edging out No. 15 seeded Mercer. Iowa was led by Megan Gustafson who had 30 points and 16 rebounds. Hannah Stewart added 12 points and 11 rebounds and Makenzie Mayer notched 16 points in the win. The victory advanced the team to the second round where the Hawkeyes faced off against Missouri, and won again, to advance to the second weekend.
“I’ve got to start with thanking the crowd,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder told reporters following the game. “There was so much energy in the arena today, and we loved it, and our three seniors deserved it. The whole team deserved it. But I’m just so thrilled that Hawkeye Nation got behind this team. Number one in the nation in attendance on Friday — yeah, Friday, and then the turnaround today and just to do it again. Our fans are amazing, and we’re so thankful for them, and they just created a tremendous home court for us, and we are very thankful for that.”
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The first quarter for Iowa against the Tigers was troublesome. Missouri got out to a 20-16 lead after ten minutes of play and looked like they were going to stick around for much of Sunday’s game. Iowa’s defense, fortunately, picked it up the remaining three quarters, allowing Missouri to score just nine points in the second, 12 in the third and 11 in the final quarter. Gustafson scored 24 points with 19 rebounds and Meyer and Kathleen Doyle combined for 33 points in advancing Iowa to the Sweet 16. Two wins in this year’s tournament is already a much-improved performance compared to a year ago when the Hawkeyes were bounced in the first round against Creighton. Gustafson’s two performances have pushed her season points total to 951, the 10th most ever by a Division 1 women’s basketball player.
Iowa’s next challenge comes on March 30 when the team will travel to Greensboro, NC for a matchup against North Carolina State at Noon EST. The Wolfpack are 28-5 this season, defeating No. 14 seeded Maine and No. 6 seeded Kentucky in the opening two rounds of the tournament. NC State is led by Kiara Leslie who has had over 20 points in the last two contests and Elissa Cunane.
“I’m just thrilled that we have another week,” Bluder said. “I get another week with this group. I get another week to go to battle with these guys, and I’m very, very happy about that.”