Iowa Women's Basketball

Iowa advances to Big Ten women's basketball tournament championship

20-point lead shrinks to 3, but Hawkeyes hold off Rutgers, 72-67

Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder talks to guards Kathleen Doyle and Tania Davis in the first half of their 72-67 win over Rutgers in a semifinal at the Big Ten women's basketball tournament Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis. The Hawkeyes face Maryland for the championship Sunday. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today)
Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder talks to guards Kathleen Doyle and Tania Davis in the first half of their 72-67 win over Rutgers in a semifinal at the Big Ten women's basketball tournament Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis. The Hawkeyes face Maryland for the championship Sunday. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today)

INDIANAPOLIS — Meet Tania Davis, rally killer. For the second straight game, Davis hit a big 3-pointer to stem the tide and preserve victory for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Her corner trey with 1:32 left snuffed out a furious Rutgers comeback, and 10th-ranked Iowa held on for a 72-67 semifinal win at the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I just welcome the moment,” said Davis, a senior who had missed the last two Big Ten tournaments with season-ending knee injuries. “I don’t think of it as a big shot. It’s just another shot, a shot that I’ve shot every day.”

Iowa (25-6) will meet No. 8 Maryland (28-3) — a 73-72 winner over Michigan — for the championship at 5 p.m. CT Sunday (ESPN2). It is Iowa’s fifth championship-game appearance, its first since 2014.

“We’re pretty happy right now,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. “The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in America, and we’re in the final two.”

The Hawkeyes built a 20-point lead on two occasions in the third quarter, but Rutgers (22-9) came rushing back. Doubt began to creep in.

“It’s a huge credit to Tania,” Hannah Stewart said. “She brought us together and said, ‘We’re winning this as a team. Everybody kind of got their heads back up at that point.”

Davis said, “I definitely felt we were being too hard on ourselves.”

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Then, Davis followed her words with action. The Scarlet Knights got within 61-58, then 63-60, then 65-62.

Davis’ bomb from the left baseline quelled the comeback for good. Friday, she hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Hawkeyes the lead for good in a quarterfinal win over Indiana.

“She hits big shots when they need to be hit,” Stewart said.

Megan Gustafson fought through a slow start — she missed six of her first seven shots — to lead the Hawkeyes with 20 points and 12 rebounds. She entered the postgame press conference with ice on her left wrist.

“It’s just a little tweak, nothing serious,” she said. “I had a couple of shots early that didn’t go in. My teammates uplifted me, encouraged me.”

Stewart added 14 points and seven rebounds, and Makenzie Meyer tallied 13 points.

Meyer is 7 of 17 from long range this week. She played 40 minutes Saturday.

“I feel like I’m in pretty good condition,” Meyer said. “I felt prepared. There were a couple of times I felt a little tired, but then I thought about how much I wanted this game.”

The Hawkeyes improved to 7-0 against Rutgers since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten.

Rutgers has been without head coach C. Vivian Stringer since late February, reportedly due to exhaustion. Stringer, 70, has won more than 1,000 career games and coached at Iowa from 1983 through 1995. Assistant Tim Eatman is serving as acting head coach.

Even with Gustafson starting cold, the Hawkeyes used runs of 7-0, 9-0, 6-0 and 8-0 on their way to a 37-23 halftime lead.

Kathleen Doyle’s 3-pointer with 4:51 left in the third quarter extended it to 51-31, then Meyer’s layup broke the Rutgers press to make it 53-33.

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Rutgers scored the next nine points though in a surge late in the third period to cut the deficit to 53-42. Then the Scarlet Knights tallied 11 in a row to get within 61-58 with 4:40 left.

A runaway had turned into a dogfight. But the Hawkeyes had enough at the end to hang on.

“Rutgers is a gritty team. We knew they were going to go on some runs,” Stewart said. “We got a little lax when we had a 20-point lead.”

Arella Guirantes led the Scarlet Knights with 16 points. Stasha Carey and Noga Peleg Pelc added 14 apiece.

So now it’s the top two teams in the Big Ten for a tournament championship Sunday. Iowa recorded an 86-73 win over Maryland on Feb. 17 in Iowa City.

But the Terrapins are veterans on this stage. They reached the title game for the fifth straight year, winning it in 2015, 2016 and 2017 before settling for second last year.

“It feels great,” Gustafson said. “We hadn’t been to the semifinals since I’ve been here, let alone gotten to the championship game. Right now, the next game is all we’ve got.”

IOWA 72, RUTGERS 67

Big Ten Tournament Semifinal, at Indianapolis

RUTGERS (67): Stasha Carey 7-14 0-2 14, Victoria Harris 2-2 0-0 4, Charise Wilson 3-11 2-2 10, Sierra Calhoun 0-1 0-0 0, Arella Guirantes 5-10 6-6 16, Zipporah Broughton 1-3 0-0 3, Noga Peleg Pelc 5-11 0-0 14, Mael Gilles 0-1 0-0 0, Tekia Mack 2-7 0-0 4, Jordan Wallace 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 26-62 8-10 67.

IOWA (72): Hannah Stewart 6-7 2-2 14, Megan Gustafson 9-18 2-3 20, Makenzie Meyer 5-11 0-0 13, Tania Davis 2-7 4-4 9, Kathleen Doyle 2-7 2-2 7, Monika Czinano 1-2 0-0 2, Alexis Sevillian 1-1 0-0 3, Amanda Ollinger 1-1 2-2 4. Totals 27-54 12-13 72.

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Halftime: Iowa 37, Rutgers 23. 3-point goals: Rutgers 7-21 (Wilson 2-8, Guirantes 0-3, Broughton 1-1, Peleg Pelc 4-8, Mack 0-1), Iowa 6-17 (Meyer 3-8, Davis 1-4, Doyle 1-4, Sevillian 1-1). Team fouls: Rutgers 20, Iowa 10. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: Rutgers 27 (Carey 7), Iowa 34 (Gustafson 12). Assists: Rutgers 15 (Guirantes 4), Iowa 22 (Doyle 7). Steals: Rutgers 14 (Carey 6), Iowa 5 (Meyer 2). Turnovers: Rutgers 11, Iowa 17.

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

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