IOWA CITY – A fast start allowed the Iowa women’s basketball team to finish an unbeaten February with a win over the hottest team in the Big Ten.
Megan Gustafson led four double-digit scorers with a 36-point, 15-rebound performance which helped the Hawkeyes to a 75-62 victory Saturday, ending Indiana’s eight-game win streak and sending Iowa into the Big Ten tourney riding its own seven-game string of wins.
Gustafson scored a dozen points and wrapped her arms around five rebounds as Iowa jumped out to a 20-5 lead which went unchallenged in front of a crowd of 6,921 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“That was huge, setting the defensive tone right off the bat, taking control of the game and putting doubt in their mind," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “Those are all things that are important if you establish yourself in the first quarter."
Iowa accomplished that despite dealing with a little adversity.
Starting guard Alexis Sevillian missed the game, as well as practice on Friday, because of influenza.
“If any team is prepared to deal with it, it’s this team. We’ve been dealing with injuries and illness all year," said Makenzie Meyer, who finished with 13 points. “The only thing that changed was a couple of us had to play a couple more minutes. We’re used to it."
The Hawkeyes had nine players in uniform for their final game of the regular season and Iowa responded by pounding the ball into its post players.
In addition to Gustafson’s seventh game of 30 or more points this season, Chase Coley finished with 12 points and Hannah Stewart added 10.
The trio combined for 32 points in the first half as Iowa used a 63-percent start from the field to build a 42-24 halftime advantage.
“Me and Megs and Hannah, we’ve been working all season in practice on those moves we do in a game," said Coley, honored along with Carly Mohns following the final home game of their careers. “… Coach is always on us to crash the boards, but I’m like ‘Why? Megan’s probably going to make it."
Gustafson knocked down 15-of-21 shots from the field, and the Hawkeyes continued to share the ball well with assists on 21 of their 29 field goals.
That allowed Iowa to maintain a lead of at least 11 points throughout the final two quarters.
The Hawkeyes also accomplished what they wanted to get done on the defensive end against an Indiana team which lost for the first time since a four-point loss at Maryland on Jan. 16.
Iowa (23-6, 11-5 Big Ten) never let the Hoosiers’ Tyra Buss get going.
Entering the game coming off of 37- and 36-point games, the Hawkeyes limited Buss to 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
“Our three-point defense was 50 percent, which isn’t good, but we made other people shoot the ball and that’s what we wanted to do," Bluder said. “We did not want Tyra Buss to take this ballgame over. … I was proud of our defensive effort even though it isn’t reflected in the three-point field goal percentage."
While Indiana (16-13, 9-7) did hit 13-of-26 attempts from three-point range, the Hoosiers were successful on just 8-of-38 shots inside the arc and shot just 32.8 percent for the game.
Amanda Cahill led Indiana with 14 points, nine coming in the fourth quarter after Iowa built a lead which reached 59-39 on a basket which pushed Gustafson past the 30-point plateau with 7 minutes, 19 seconds left in the game.
“We played the way we wanted to," Gustafson said. “February has been a great month for us. We’ve had a lot of close games, a lot of good finishes and it’s giving us some good momentum going into the Big Ten tourney."
Iowa’s seed for next week’s conference tournament in Indianapolis will be determined today.
The Hawkeyes will finish league play in no worse than a tie for third place in the standings but need Illinois, winless in Big Ten games, to upset Minnesota today to earn better than a fifth seed for the conference tourney.