Hawkeye women will play for a Final Four berth
By JOEDY McCREARY
AP Sports Writer
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Iowa did what it always does, working the ball around and getting it to Megan Gustafson. Now the Hawkeyes are sticking around longer in the NCAA Tournament than they have in a generation.
Gustafson had 27 points and 12 rebounds to lead Iowa past North Carolina State 79-61 on Saturday in the Greensboro Regional semifinals.
“It’s been a magical year for us,” Hawkeye coach Lisa Bluder said, “and we don’t want to see it end.”
Gustafson, who averages a Division I-best 28 points while also ranking second in rebounding, finished with her 33rd double-double to tie the NCAA’s single-season record. She made 10 of her 13 shots.
Hannah Stewart added 16 points and 10 rebounds.
They helped the second-seeded Hawkeyes (29-6) earn their first Elite Eight appearance since 1993. Iowa will play top-seeded Baylor on Monday night, with the winner advancing to the Final Four in Tampa, Florida.
Iowa shot 54 percent and took command by hitting eight straight shots during a Gustafson-led 20-8 run that came after N.C. State pulled to within five midway through the third quarter.
Alexis Sevillian bookended the burst with 3-pointers, with the second of those giving the Hawkeyes their largest lead to that point at 63-46 with 8 minutes left.
Seven of the Hawkeyes’ nine buckets during that run were assisted. Iowa ranks second in Division I with an average of 21.7 assists. The Hawkeyes had assists on 24 of their 31 field goals.
“We love to be able to just share the ball and get a great shot instead of a good shot,” Gustafson said. “We feed off each other’s energy, and that’s what kept us going.”
Freshman Elissa Cunane had 14 points and 11 rebounds, Kiara Leslie had 16 points and DD Rogers added 12 points for the third-seeded Wolfpack (28-6), who shot just 35 percent.
N.C. State: One of the best seasons — and most unlikely runs, after losing four players to season-ending injuries — in Wolfpack history came to an end at a familiar stage of the tournament. N.C. State reached the Sweet 16 for the 13th time in program history. Only once have the Wolfpack gone further — in 1998, the year of the program’s lone Final Four appearance. This team set a program record by opening with 21 straight victories before the schedule got tougher.
“I do believe that the program has gone up since I’ve been here,” said Rogers, a senior. “People just stepped up and wanted to go as far as they could this year, and we made it happen.”
Iowa: Thanks to Gustafson, it’s among the Hawkeyes’ deeper marches through the bracket in recent years. This was Iowa’s first Sweet 16 since 2015 and just the third since the ’93 team rolled to the lone Final Four in program history under coach C. Vivian Stringer.
“That’s the goal, right?” Bluder said. “You always want to take your program as high as you can. This certainly was a step for us. It was really important to us, and it was important to our players.”
Iowa took command after N.C. State pulled to 43-38 on Aislinn Konig’s layup with just under 5 minutes left in the third. But the Wolfpack went cold after that, missing nine of their next 10 shots while Iowa hit eight in a row. Gustafson made consecutive layups, the second of which put the Hawkeyes up by double figures to stay.
“We made a nice run, came down about 4-5 times in a row … (and) the ball just didn’t go in,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “I thought that was our chance to put some pressure on them. But it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Gustafson joined some elite company with her latest double-double. Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris set the record of 33 in 2006 and did it again a year later. Natalie Butler of George Mason matched that mark last season. Gustafson has had a double-double in all but two games this season.
Iowa advances to face Baylor on Monday night in the regional final.