2019 NCAA TOURNAMENT

Recovered from 2 knee injuries, Tania Davis leads Iowa into NCAA Tournament

Megan Gustafson: 'She's one of the toughest cookies I know'

Iowa point guard Tania Davis has recovered from two knee injuries in her college career. Davis and the Hawkeyes will face Mercer in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at 1 p.m. Friday. (The Gazette)
Iowa point guard Tania Davis has recovered from two knee injuries in her college career. Davis and the Hawkeyes will face Mercer in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at 1 p.m. Friday. (The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Growing up, Tania Davis’ radius of freedom was less than one city block.

“Most of my childhood, I lived on the same street as my aunt, five houses down,” she said. “My best friend lived across the street, a couple of houses down.

“I could go to their houses, but I couldn’t go any farther.”

Davis grew up in what she called “the rough part” of Flint, Mich. There was a basketball hoop in her driveway. Precious few were allowed to accompany her.

“My best friends could come over,” she said. “If my mom didn’t know you, though, you couldn’t come in the gate. Basketball was my safe haven. I was able to stay away from the bad things that were going on.”

Flint is a tough town. As a result, Davis — a senior point guard for the Iowa women’s basketball team — is a tough kid. Tough enough to grit through a torn ACL in her right knee. Then her left knee.

“She is incredible. To be able to go through what she is going through is amazing,” teammate Megan Gustafson said. “Just to see how she has handled everything, she is one of the toughest cookies I know.”

A calm, cool leader at 5-foot-3, Davis will lead the eighth-ranked Hawkeyes (26-6) into the NCAA tournament Friday, when they face Mercer (25-7) in a first-round game at 1 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“This was exactly why I came here,” Davis said last week. “From Day 1, I believed in Coach (Lisa) Bluder and her vision, to come here and win Big Ten championships, play at the national level.”

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Davis hit a signature shot in each of the Hawkeyes’ three wins at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Her 3-pointer put Iowa ahead for good after Indiana took a one-point fourth-quarter lead in the quarterfinals, then she made another trey to keep Rutgers at bay late in the semifinals.

In the championship game, she opened the final period with a 3-pointer for a 12-point lead, and Maryland didn’t get within single digits again. Iowa claimed the title, 90-76.

“We were on a high for three days straight, then it’s back to reality and back to school,” Davis said. “We want to make this last as long as possible. We don’t want it to end.”

A graduate of Goodrich High School, Davis was named Michigan Miss Basketball in 2015. She was ranked as the 36th-best prospect nationally by ESPN HoopGurlz.

Her numbers in high school were good. It was her toughness that Bluder coveted.

“We really wanted her because she was a hard-nosed point guard,” Bluder said. “We watched her in AAU, this kid taking charges. Nobody takes charges in AAU.

“That’s the toughness I wanted on our team.”

Davis and Alexis Sevillian were teammates and best friends at Goodrich. Davis is a year older, but Sevillian was the first to commit to the Hawkeyes, Sept. 11, 2014.

“We both had a really good connection with (former Iowa assistant) Lacey (Goldwire),” Sevillian said. “I committed and told Tania everything, but I didn’t want my decision to sway her. Honestly, I thought she was going to go to West Virginia.”

“Tania made us suffer a little,” Bluder said. “I didn’t know if we were going to get her.”

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Davis was part of the Big Ten all-freshman team in 2015-16, playing in every game and starting 16. She averaged 8.1 points and 3.4 assists, but the Hawkeyes settled for the WNIT and lost in the first round to Ball State.

She became a full-time starter as a sophomore and was averaging 30.4 minutes and 10.9 points before a trip back to Michigan ended her season.

“Ally (Disterhoft) got a steal and threw it up to me,” Davis said. “I was trying to get contact, and came off completely wrong. I didn’t feel a pop. but the knee shifted. It was instant pain.”

Davis tore the ACL in her right knee. She had experienced the rehabilitation — “everything, the pain, the hard work” — that Sevillian’s older sister KeKe underwent after her own injury, but it didn’t make it easier.

“It was harder mentally and physically that I thought it would be,” Davis said.

Still, she was back in time for the start of her junior season. But in the 12th game, at Northern Iowa, she was fouled while driving for a layup.

The diagnosis: Torn ACL, left knee.

“Shoot, I wanted it to be a great year for me and my team,” Davis said. “Why me? Why did it happen again.”

Physically, the second rehab went easier than the first. Not mentally, though.

“The second one was really hard on me,” Davis said. “It was hard to find other ways to support my teammates. It was hard being at games. It sucks to say, but I was pretty selfish instead of being a good teammate and lifting everybody else up.”

Bluder said, “I think she got a little bitter, but who wouldn’t be? She came to Iowa to play basketball, and when that’s taken away, it’s tough.”

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After two straight WNIT berths, Iowa returned to the NCAA last year and lost in the first round to Creighton.

Last year’s injury happened early in the season, so Davis didn’t have to rush to make it back for this year’s season opener.

“The second time, I had in mind that I was going to go slow, day by day,” she said. “Once the season approached, there was a little more urgency, I started kicking its butt.”

The dual injuries have had minimal lasting impact. Davis is averaging 10.8 points and 4.5 assists this season, and all of her shooting rates (43.3 percent from the field, 39.2 from 3-point range, 88 percent from the free-throw line) are solid.

That trademark toughness, it’s still there. It has been accompanied by more joy this winter. Winning helps.

“She’s really warmed up the last couple of years,” Sevillian said. “Most people don’t see her fun personality. She’s really grown out of her shell.”

Davis shares point-guard duties with junior Kathleen Doyle. One is cool; the other bubbles with energy.

“Tania is so even-keeled on the court. It’s good for our team,” Bluder said. “Tania and Kathleen are completely different point guards in demeanor. Tania can be stoic, and Kathleen is always running and hopping around.

“I think it’s good to have both types.”

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Whether or not Iowa makes a Final Four run, Davis will be in Tampa in the first weekend of April. The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association sponsors a program called, “Do you want to be a coach?”

Davis does.

“It’s an opportunity to put my resume out there and see if anybody has a (graduate-assistant) position out there,” Davis said.

Basketball won’t end for Davis when her career at Iowa does, whenever that may be.

“I’m just a baller,” she said. “My stepdad got me into golf, but I’m not very good at it. I like bowling.

“But what I really love are my family, my friends and my relatives. And basketball.”

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

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