LOS ANGELES — Megan Gustafson’s dream of a deep NCAA Tournament run will have to be put on hold.
The Hawkeyes’ season came to an abrupt end Saturday, when No. 11-seed Creighton (19-12) knocked off No. 6-seed Iowa (24-8) 76-70 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.
The game was tight throughout. Iowa trailed by just three points at halftime, and twice pulled within four points in the final minutes. Creighton, though, held the Hawkeyes off, knocking down some key buckets and limiting the Iowa offense at the end.
Even though the mood in the locker room after the game was a somber one, the Hawkeyes are already looking to the future.
“We’re all ticked off that we lost that game,” said Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle, who finished with 11 points and eight assists. “We wanted to make a big run in this tournament. It’s just going to motivate us next year because nobody wants to feel like this.”
The Hawkeyes will only lose senior Chase Coley and redshirt junior Carly Mohns — who is calling her career quits early after a rough string of knee injuries — next season. They’ll also get back point guard Tania Davis, who tore her ACL back in December, and have a slew of recruits coming in that Coach Lisa Bluder thinks can have a positive impact.
Plus, having Gustafson and forward Hannah Stewart — who had 10 points off the bench on Saturday — back for their senior seasons is something Bluder knows puts them in a good position.
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“We return some really good players,” Bluder said. “Megan I think is one of the best posts in America, and she’s coming back for her senior year. I think Hannah today showed what she’s capable of doing. We have four recruits coming in. I think the future looks bright for our team. I wish they would have had a better experience here for them to go into next year, but certainly they know they’re good enough to compete at this level.”
The Hawkeyes were young this season. Only two players on Iowa’s roster had been to the NCAA Tournament before. Their only postseason experience was a pair of trips to the WNIT, which simply doesn’t compare to the NCAA Tournament.
Gustafson, who dropped 29 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the loss, knew that coming in to the first round. Before the NCAA Tournament had even started, Gustafson was already talking about how critical this experience was going to be for next year’s team.
While she obviously wanted a better result this time around, Gustafson still has her sights set on the future.
“This really sets us up for next year,” Gustafson said. “Both (Stewart and I will be) seniors, so it’s going to be our last year. We’re really excited to make a run. We are young, and I think just having this experience in the NCAA is huge, especially for our younger players. This is our first time, and we really want to get back next year to go make some noise.”