IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Megan Gustafson and the surging Hawkeyes are off to the Sweet 16.
Iowa might evolve into a true Final Four contender if Gustafson can get the kind of help that she got from her teammates on Sunday.
Gustafson scored 24 points with 19 rebounds, Makenzie Meyer added 18 points and second-seeded Iowa pounded Missouri 68-52 to advance to its second Sweet 16 in five years.
Kathleen Doyle scored 15 points for the Hawkeyes (28-6), who held the Tigers to 36 percent shooting and blew them away with a blistering 23-4 run in the second half. They’ll face either Kentucky or North Carolina State, who play each other on Monday, in the semifinals of the Greensboro Regional next week.
“We are just wanting to keep playing basketball,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “We want to make it to the Sweet Sixteen because it’s a huge accomplishment. But it’s not about a legacy. It’s more about a sentiment; it’s more about being together.”
Gustafson was brilliant in the first two rounds, combining for 54 points and 35 rebounds. But the Hawkeyes showed how truly dangerous they can be when Gustafson’s teammates turn up the pressure on defense and take advantage of the attention their star center demands on the other end.
“We made them work really hard to get shots. And Megan was there to clean up the boards,” Bluder said. “They were just not getting any really good looks. When we were able to keep getting defensive stops, it gave us a mental edge.
Tania Davis hit her first 3 of the game to open the fourth quarter, putting Iowa up 50-41, and Meyer’s corner 3 pushed the lead to 13. Gustafson’s jumper over two defenders made it 60-43 with 4:21 to go, capping a spurt that helped Iowa clinch its highest win total in 31 years.
“We really can’t control a lot of things, but we’re able to control our effort on defense,” Gustafson said.
Amber Smith scored 21 points for Missouri (24-11). The Tigers bowed out in the second round for the third time in four years after scoring just 23 points in the second half.
Iowa held Mizzou star Sophie Cunningham to just eight points — 10 below her average — on 3 of 11 shooting.
“We didn’t feel like we could take away everything. Megan demands so much attention. The last thing we wanted to do was give up 3s and easy touches inside,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “It makes it hard when you’re having a hard time scoring.”
Iowa struggled mightily in beating 15th-seeded Mercer on Friday, and it got off to another sluggish start that was punctuated when Missouri’s Jordan Roundtree hit a half-court bank shot to beat the first-quarter buzzer.
Iowa finally woke up in the second quarter.
The Hawkeyes shored up their defense and started feeding Gustafson in the post, fueling a 15-2 run that put the Hawkeyes ahead 33-29 at the break. Missouri responded, tying the game at 39 on an Smith jumper, but Gustafson buried two more inside jumpers to push Iowa ahead 47-41 heading into the fourth.
THE BIG PICTURE
Iowa: Gustafson received a standing ovation when she was finally pulled from her final home game with 22.4 seconds to go. “It was a bittersweet moment (leaving the court the final time), but mostly sweet because we’re moving onto the Sweet 16,” Gustafson said.
Missouri: The Tigers’ senior class elevated the program to new heights even though they never led the team past the second round. Missouri will likely go through a rebuild next season with starters Cunningham, Cierra Porter and Lauren Aldridge set to graduate.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder grabbed a microphone and screamed “How ’bout them Hawks!” before launching into a speech thanking the crowd for their support shortly after the game. But before Bluder could blurt out her first sentence, the Missouri band started playing its final song of the season. Bluder said “I’ll wait” and stopped talking, but the crowd drowned out Mizzou’s pep band with their trademark “Let’s Go Hawks!” chant.