Iowa Women's Basketball

Iowa women's basketball: Hawkeyes prove they can defend, too

They made life rough for Sophie Cunningham and Mizzou, and the reward is a Sweet 16 berth

Iowa’s Kathleen Doyle steals the ball away from Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham (3) during their NCAA women’s basketball second-round game Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes won, 68-52, and advanced to the Sweet 16. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa’s Kathleen Doyle steals the ball away from Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham (3) during their NCAA women’s basketball second-round game Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes won, 68-52, and advanced to the Sweet 16. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — You knew that the Iowa Hawkeyes could score.

Here’s some news. They can defend, too.

Iowa held Missouri — and its all-American, Sophie Cunningham — well below their averages Sunday. The result was a 68-52 victory in the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“We know what her numbers had been like, especially these last five, six games. I mean, she’s been shooting over 50 percent from 3-point range,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said.

“So we said no open looks. She gets no open looks from three, and we basically dogged her all over when we were in (man-to-man), triangle-and-two, then in zone.”

Cunningham hit a 3-pointer in the first minute of the game, then another midway through the first quarter. She didn’t score again until 4:50 remained in the game.

The Hawkeyes (28-6) held her to eight points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field.

“I mean, she’s an awesome player, so we definitely had to focus in on her, but we were doing whatever we can to make her life as hard as possible throughout the whole game, wear her out,” Kathleen Doyle said. “It worked out in our favor.”

The Hawkeyes were stingy on defense, and they were smart. Consider this — for a span of 78 minutes, 12 seconds of NCAA tournament game time, they did not allow their opposition (Mercer on Friday, Missouri on Sunday) to shoot a free throw.

That’s unheard of.

“It just comes down to what’s going on in the environment, and we were just trying to get lock-down defense,” Megan Gustafson said. “We really can’t control a lot of things, but we were able to control our effort on defense, and that’s what we really wanted to focus on.”

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So now it’s on to Greensboro, N.C., where the Hawkeyes will face No. 10 North Carolina State (28-5) in a regional semifinal Saturday. The Wolfpack defeated No. 17 Kentucky, 72-57.

North Carolina State started 21-0, and three of the Wolfpack’s losses (two to Louisville, one to Notre Dame) came against teams that are NCAA No. 1 seeds.

The Wolfpack has four players averaging in double figures, led by Kiara Leslie at 15.6 points per game. NC State has a 6-foot-5 freshman center in Elissa Cunane.

Gustafson has scored 951 points this season, the 10th-highest number for a player in NCAA Division-I history. Only three players have scored 1,000, and Gustafson can become the fourth if she hits her average (28.1 ppg) and the Hawkeyes play at least two more games.

Iowa's Sweet 16 history

1987 — Beat Georgia, 62-60; lost to Louisiana Tech, 66-65. Elite Eight.

1988 — Beat Southern Cal, 76-67; lost to Long Beach State, 98-78. Elite Eight.

1989 — Lost to Stanford, 98-74.

1993 — Beat Auburn, 63-50; beat Tennessee, 72-56; lost to Ohio State, 73-72 (OT). Final Four.

1996 — Lost to Vanderbilt, 74-63.

2015 — Lost to Baylor, 81-66.

2019 — Faces North Carolina State, Saturday.

Iowa's winningest teams

29 — 1987-88 (29-2)

28 — 2018-19 (28-6)

27 — 1992-93 (27-4)

27 — 1995-96 (27-4)

27 — 1988-89 (27-5)

27 — 2014-15 (27-9)

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

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