Iowa finds a way to advance in NCAA women's basketball tournament

Down 4 in the fourth quarter, Hawkeyes escape Mercer's upset bid, 66-61

IOWA CITY — They kicked the ball around for most of the game, and early in the fourth quarter, it appeared the Iowa Hawkeyes were about to boot their season away.

In the end, though, they escaped.

Megan Gustafson registered 30 points and 16 rebounds, and Hannah Stewart made the key baskets down the stretch as eighth-ranked Iowa fought past Mercer, 66-61, in an NCAA women’s basketball first-round game Friday afternoon at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“It feels good to get this win, no matter how ugly it was,” Gustafson said.

It was plenty ugly.

The Hawkeyes (27-6) committed 24 turnovers, compared to just three for Mercer (25-8). And somehow, they still won.

“We didn’t see anybody (pressure the entry passes to the posts), and I didn’t understand why,” Mercer Coach Susie Gardner said.

Mercer (25-8) held a shocking 56-52 lead when KeKe Calloway drained a 3-pointer with 7:03 remaining.

Gustafson answered with the next five points, including a three-point play to put Iowa in front, 57-56.

“It was a crucial time, and we really needed a basket,” Gustafson said.

Calloway struck again as the shot-clock buzzer rang to give the Bears a 59-57 edge, but it was their last lead.


Stewart scored to tie it 59-59 with 3:55 left, then Makenzie Meyer’s free throw put Iowa in front. Stewart scored the Hawkeyes’ next two baskets — both on feeds from Kathleen Doyle — to make it 64-61, then Doyle sealed it with two free throws with eight seconds left.

In the 26 years that the NCAA women’s tournament has been a 64-team event, a 15-seed has never beaten a 2. But the Bears made the Hawkeyes sweat until the end.

“We played someone much more difficult that a 15-seed,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said.

The Hawkeyes advance to face Missouri (24-10) in the second round Sunday, at a time to be determined. Mizzou outlasted Drake, 77-76, in overtime.

Earlier in the day, Gustafson was named a finalist for the Naismith Award. She didn’t do anything to hurt her candidacy, making her first 13 shots and finishing 14 of 16. Her totals for points (927) and rebounds (440) this season both are Big Ten records.

Meyer added 16 points — hitting 5 of 7 shots from long range — as the Hawkeyes picked up their first NCAA win since a Sweet 16 run in 2015.

“It was nice to take a weight off Megan’s shoulders,” Meyer said. “Mercer was really digging in, and it was nice to knock some down today.”

Gustafson scored nine points in the first six minutes as Iowa ran off to a 14-4 lead. Then the turnovers started to pile up on the Hawkeyes, and the Bears stuck around for the long haul.


“That was part of our plan,” said Mercer’s Amanda Thompson. “We wanted to get a lot of tips and a lot of turnovers. We wanted to pressure the ball and value every possession.”

Trailing 35-27 at halftime, Mercer crept within one point on six occasions in the third quarter, then Shannon Titus’ basket at the horn gave the Bears their first lead, 51-50.

Calloway led Mercer — which entered the game with 17 consecutive wins — with 21 points; Thompson added 18.

So how did the Hawkeyes prevail in spite of the turnover discrepancy? They shot 55 percent (compared to 35 percent for the Bears) and won the rebounding battle, 47-29.

“I’m disappointed in the turnovers,” Bluder said. “We’re better post passers than that.

“We’ll be better Sunday.”


NCAA First Round, at Iowa City

MERCER (61): Amanda Thompson 9-16 0-0 18, Rachel Selph 4-12 0-0 8, KeKe Calloway 8-26 0-0 21, Linnea Rosendal 1-9 0-0 2, Shannon Titus 4-13 0-0 8, Tia Benvenuti 0-0 0-0 0, Lakaitlin Wright 1-1 0-0 2, Ally Welch 1-3 0-0 2, Amoria Neal-Tyson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-80 0-0 61.

IOWA (66): Hannah Stewart 6-13 0-0 12, Megan Gustafson 14-16 2-3 30, Makenzie Meyer 5-8 1-2 16, Tania Davis 1-2 0-2 2, Kathleen Doyle 2-8 2-2 6, Alexis Sevillian 0-2 0-0 0, Amanda Ollinger 0-1 0-0 0, Monika Czinano 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-51 5-9 66.

Halftime: Iowa 35, Mercer 27. 3-point goals: Mercer 5-21 (Thompson 0-1, Calloway 5-14, Rosendal 0-6), Iowa 5-11 (Meyer 5-7, Doyle 0-3, Sevillian 0-1). Team fouls: Mercer 16, Iowa 10. Fouled out: Titus. Rebounds: Mercer 29 (Selph 8), Iowa 47 (Gustafson 16). Assists: Mercer 18 (Titus 5), Iowa 20 (Stewart, Davis, Doyle 4). Steals: Mercer 17 (Thompson 6), Iowa 1 (Davis). Turnovers: Mercer 3, Iowa 24.

Attendance: 10,720.

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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