GREENSBORO, NC — In the first of two Sweet 16 games in the Greensboro regional, the Iowa Hawkeyes defeated the N.C. State Wolfpack, 79-61. While N.C. State pulled within five in the third quarter, ultimately, Iowa was too deep, too precise, and too Gustafson for the under-manned Wolfpack to manage.
“I’m extremely happy for my team,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said after the game. “They have worked so hard. They kept believing. They were positive. It’s been a magical year, and we don’t want to see it end.”
This is the first Elite Eight for Bluder, who has been Iowa’s head coach for 19 seasons, and only the fourth Elite Eight trip in Iowa’s history. The last time they made a regional final was 1993.
Here are the main takeaways from Iowa’s big day:
Megan Gustafson is a goddess
I was a bit worried that seeing Megan Gustafson in person for the first time was going to be a let-down. I am an absolute moron! (Please don’t stop reading.) In the first half alone, she had 11 points, 6 rebounds, and two assists. Oh, and that included zero misses: 3-for-3 from the field, and 5-for-5 from the line.
The wildest thing about all of that? She makes it look absolutely effortless. Seriously. She plays with a grace that i don’t often see in post players. She’s efficient and smart and her footwork is always on point. She just does everything right. That’s what was most apparent in person. She is always, and I mean always, in the right place at the right time. N.C. State played with the type of frenetic energy that can rattle players. But I’m honestly not sure it’s even possible to rattle Gustafson.
Yes, she did miss two shots in the second half. Maybe she is human after all. Although, her game stats of 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists suggests otherwise.
The Hawkeyes are terrifyingly in-sync
Look, the reason Iowa is so much better this season than it has been in the past, isn’t because of Gustafson. It’s because the talent around her, and more specifically, the chemistry she has with that those players. You can tell that this is a team that starts three seniors and two juniors; they know each other so, so well. The ball movement, the defensive discipline, the control that they play with, well, it’s the type of teamwork and poise that is only truly possible when you’ve been playing together for an extended period of time. That’s not something we usually get to see in college basketball.
“We just know each other,” forward Hannah Stewart said in press. “You know, we know what each of the guards’s strengths are and I think the guards know us really well and we know each other really well. I know where Megan wants the ball on the high-low, and I know even if I don’t hit her there, she’s going to catch it most of the time.
“So yeah, I think just having that experience together is a huge advantage.”
Case in point? Iowa had 24 assists on the day. Stewart added another double-double to the mix, with 16 points and 12 boards; Kathleen Doyle had 9 points, 8 assists, and 4 boards. Tania Davis had 10 points, 6 assists.
More from NCAA
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, April 6: Stanford defeats Arizona in a tightly contested matchup to win the national title
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 30: UConn and Baylor deliver a classic battle of storied programs
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 26: Louisville and Texas A&M survive and advance
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 23: Highlights from the first round of the NCAA Tournament
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 16: Tournament bracket released
This is not a one-woman team. But they’re so in sync, they play like a one-brain team.
N.C. State’s Elissa Cunane is the real deal
With all of this praise being heaped on Gustafson — and deservedly so — I must say that I was almost equally impressed with Elissa Cunane. Not because she was as good as Gustafson, of course, but because she’s only a FRESHMAN who managed to have 14 points, 11 rebounds while facing off against Gustafson
She certainly earned the admiration of her opponents.
“It was definitely a really good battle. You know, she’s a really great center, and she has got a great career ahead of her. We were both working hard down there,” Gustafson said.
“I think we were fortunate we were able to pick up a couple fouls on her and it put her on the bench for a little bit,” Bluder said. “She played 32 minutes instead of 38 minutes, which is to our benefit. And also, when you pick up those fouls, it makes you a little bit more timid. I think that, you know, Megan said it the best. She’s going to be a great player. There’s no doubt, she’s one of the best coming up in the country as far as posts.”
Cunane — who was playing in her hometown of Greensboro — is 6’5″ of elastic athleticism and shotmaking. At one point, she pivoted around Gustafson in the post, had her back to the basket, and still managed to twist her upper body around and make the layup. That is not something that is supposed to happen! Ever!
She also has range; she hit a couple of jump shots, and even attempted two 3-pointers. Though she didn’t make them, it was nice to see a big with that confidence in herself and her shot-making ability. The Wolfpack are going to be a problem for years to come thanks to Cunane.
Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.