Iowa center Megan Gustafson had never won an NCAA tournament game before this weekend. Now she and the Hawkeyes are headed to the Sweet 16 of the women's NCAA tournament.
In a battle of superstars with Missouri's Sophie Cunningham, Gustafson clearly had the upper hand. Gustafson had her 32nd double-double of the season as the Hawkeyes, the No. 2 seed in the Greensboro Regional, beat No. 7 Missouri 68-52 before a packed house in Iowa City, Iowa.
Iowa played in the WNIT in Gustafson's first two seasons in 2016 and '17. Last year, Creighton upset the Hawkeyes in the first round. That put a lot of pressure on Gustafson, the espnW national player of the year, to maximize her final college season.
She has done that -- and her 24-point, 19-rebound performance Sunday was another example of how strong an impact she has had and how impossible it has been to stop her. But she had help on Sunday, too. Makenzie Meyer had 18 points and Kathleen Doyle 15 points for Iowa, which advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015.
The Hawkeyes' zone defense was a major factor, too. Missouri played well in the first quarter, taking a 20-17 lead, but the Tigers' offense was tepid the rest of the game. Part of that was because Cunningham got into foul trouble. She picked up her third foul in the second quarter, and it seemed she couldn't get into rhythm the rest of the game. She finished 3-of-11 from the field for eight points, the first time she was held in single digits since a loss to Florida in January.
The Tigers also couldn't get to the free throw line, which was a big part of their first-round victory over No. 10 seed Drake. Missouri shot just two free throws against Iowa, both by senior forward Cierra Porter. They were 14-of-16 from the line against Drake.
Cunningham, a Columbia, Missouri, native, ends her career as Missouri's all-time leading scorer and awaits the WNBA draft; she is projected as an early second-round pick in the latest espnW mock draft. The Tigers made the NCAA tournament all four seasons of her career, a major step forward for the program.
And Gustafson, who is Iowa's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, moves on to the regional semifinals. Iowa's lone Final Four was in 1993, and there are some big obstacles in the way -- potentially including No. 1 overall seed Baylor -- before the Hawkeyes can book their trip to Tampa and the national semifinals.
But Gustafson's goals this season included winning a Big Ten title -- which Iowa did in the league tournament -- and making noise in the NCAA tournament. She has already done that, and she could end up making even more.