Greensboro, N.C. – Behind another standout performance from Megan Gustafson, the Iowa Hawkeyes steamrolled past NC State Saturday, 79-61, to earn their first Elite 8 appearance since 1993.
Gustafson had 27 points and 12 rebounds, Hannah Stewart added 16 points and 11 boards and Tania Davis put up 10 points and dished six assists in the win, which showcased suffocating defense from Iowa.
They did a remarkable job limiting the Wolfpack’s offense throughout the game by closing out hard, denying the ball on every possession and limiting NC State’s perimeter shooters.
Iowa dominated for most of the game, but the momentum turned slightly coming out of halftime. The Wolfpack started getting out in transition early to cut into the lead. An Aislinn Konig layup trimmed the deficit to five, and game appeared to be up for grabs. Then Iowa responded, the Wolfpack briefly forgot how to score at the rim for a few possessions, and the lead was back to double digits going into the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes ran away with the game down the stretch, leading by as many as 21 points.
“Today, they worked so hard out there,” Hawkeye coach Lisa Bluder said. “Very, very proud of them. We shot the ball well, (and got) 24 assists again. That’s kind of our game. We shot the ball well from everywhere but I thought our defense was pretty good, as well.”
Gustafson, notched her 33rd double-double on the year for an NCAA single-season record.
“Whenever I saw [the defense] doubling it, I was able to hit my guards and they were able to hit after that,” she said. “After that I was able to get a little bit open inside and I have to credit my teammates for hitting those shots.”
The three seniors and top scorers said playing together for so long helped them during the game.
“We just know each other,” Stewart said of her team’s fluid play. “You know, we know what each of the guards’ strengths are and I think the guards know us really well and we know each other really well.”
“It’s crucial to have those leaders and veteran players that have been in these kind of situations,” she said. “That experience is so important, especially when there’s games like this where we’re battling for our careers.”
Wolfpack coach Wes Moore credited Gustafson for leading the Hawkeye’s charge.
“[Iowa] played a great game. Very well-coached. Very fundamental,” Moore said. “And you know, Gustafson, obviously, [is an] awesome player and then it felt like the rest of the team really had a great game around her.”
The battle in the paint between Gustafson and NC State freshman Elissa Cunane was as good as advertised. Cunane acquitted herself wonderfully, racking up 14 points and 11 rebounds and fighting to match her opponent’s physicality. But though there was no stopping Gustafso, Cunane said she learned from the match up.
“I think she kept her composure very well on the court, and she just scored a lot around the basket, but she also had the outside shot,” Cunane said of Gustafson. “So I think just her style of play, and she was directing her players and leadership on the court is something I can learn from.”
Kiara Leslie led four in double figures for the Wolfpack, with 16 points, while Cunane added 14 points and 11 rebounds. DD Rogers – the other senior besides Leslie, scored 12 points. Both said they take pride in the season, in which they remained the nation’s only unbeaten team until January.
“I think that we didn’t play the way we wanted to today, but [everyone] played hard for us,” Leslie said. “I personally take some of the blame for us starting off a little bit slow but I’m thankful for the way that we finished this year.”
Rogers said she appreciates her teammates.
“I’m very happy with how our year went this year,” Rogers added. “I wish the outcome of this game would have been different, but I wouldn’t rather have, you know, done it beside the people that I did it with.”
Moore was emotional discussing his team’s remarkable season coming to an end, as his voice broke talking about the Wolfpack’s accomplishments on the year.
“There’s times before a game, introductions or whatever, I’m almost moved to tears because as good of players they are just as good of people,” Moore said. “I think the whole body of work, you have to be really proud of these players and all they have been through.”
Bluder, who took the reins at Iowa in 2000, said the goal of breaking through the the round of eight was universal.
“You know, we had not as a coaching staff been to an Elite 8, so it was really important to us, and it was important to our players,” Bluder said. “We also, I think it’s the first team that’s ever had 29 wins in a season since that year, as well.”
Iowa faces No. 1 Baylor Monday for a bid to the Final Four.