2019 NCAA TOURNAMENT

Missouri stands between Iowa women's basketball and Sweet 16

Win or lose, Sunday is the Carver finale for Megan Gustafson, Tania Davis and Hannah Stewart

Win or lose, Sunday marks the Carver-Hawkeye Arena farewell for Megan Gustafson (10), along with Tania Davis and Hannah Stewart. The Hawkeyes face Missouri in an NCAA women’s basketball second-round game at 1 p.m. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Win or lose, Sunday marks the Carver-Hawkeye Arena farewell for Megan Gustafson (10), along with Tania Davis and Hannah Stewart. The Hawkeyes face Missouri in an NCAA women’s basketball second-round game at 1 p.m. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Win or lose, this is it.

One of the top senior classes, led by unquestionably the best women’s basketball player, in school history will make its final appearance at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday.

“I’m not emotional about it, not yet,” Hannah Stewart said. “I’m focusing on the basketball part of it. We’re going to try to get it done one game, one play at a time.”

Eighth-ranked Iowa (27-6) meets Missouri (24-10) in an NCAA tournament second-round game; tipoff is 1 p.m. (ESPN2).

As of Saturday afternoon, 9,800 tickets had been sold.

“A lot of people don’t get to play (postseason) games at home, but these three do,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said, referring to Stewart, Megan Gustafson and Tania Davis. “We know there’s going to be another huge crowd. They’re coming out because they love this team, and they’re coming out so they can see these three seniors one last time.”

Sunday’s winner advances to the Sweet 16 next weekend in Greensboro, N.C. The Hawkeyes last reached that point in 2015; Missouri hasn’t been there since 2001.

“We’re going to try to blaze a trail,” Mizzou Coach Robin Pingeton said. “There are steps to this ... winning a conference title, making it to the first round, the second round ... it’s a natural progression.”

Pingeton played for Bluder at St. Ambrose University between 1986 and 1990, then was an assistant under Bluder for two seasons at Drake. This is the first Iowa-Missouri meeting since Nov. 20, 2004, and the stakes are high.

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“Lisa is a great mentor and friend to me,” Pingeton said. “She teaches fundamentals really, really well, and she has a great staff.”

Bluder said, “That was 30 years ago. We’ve both changed a lot. Robin coaches like she played, she’s tenacious.”

Both teams squeaked by in the first round. Iowa somehow overcame a 24-3 disadvantage in turnovers to escape 15-seed Mercer, 66-61. Then, Missouri edged Drake, 77-76, in overtime.

“Those turnover numbers are ridiculous, especially for us,” Davis said. “Kathleen (Doyle) and I hold the ball in our hands the most, and we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to make smarter decisions.”

The focus will be on Gustafson — the ESPN player of the year — and Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham.

Gustafson leads the nation in scoring (28.1 points per game) and field-goal accuracy (70.1 percent). She’s among the all-time national career leaders in points (2,730) and rebounds (1,419), and most would say she’s the best Hawkeye ever.

“She’s a great player, a lot of their offense,” Cunningham said. “I’m not going to give you our game plan; that would be dumb of me.”

Cunningham is a 6-foot-1 guard that averages 18.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

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“It’s one thing to face a good guard, but to face a guard with that length and size ... we’re going to have to be ready for her defensively,” Gustafson said.

The Hawkeyes cut down a net in Indianapolis after winning the Big Ten tournament. A win Sunday would be cause for another snipping ceremony.

“A Carver net, that would be something special,” Stewart said. “Indy gave us good practice. I hope there’s a lot of season left for us.”

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

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