Iowa women's basketball: Cy-Hawk heroics punctuate Tania Davis' long journey back

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — With ice bags on her legs and a smile on her face, Tania Davis shuffled into the media room postgame. She was quick to relay the news.

“I'm trending on Twitter!” the Hawkeyes' senior point guard proclaimed.

After a moment like that, you bet.

See, it wasn’t just the shot — a step-back 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining that handed No. 16 Iowa a thrilling 73-70 win over rival Iowa State. It was the punctuation on a strenuous journey back from darkness and disappointment.

Iowa guard Tania Davis (11) celebrates with Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle (22) after making a 3-point basket during a Cy-Hawk series NCAA women's basketball game on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

As wild as these heroics were, Davis has twice been on the opposite end of that emotional spectrum. Torn ACLs as a sophomore and junior robbed her of plenty — the time off in both seasons to salvage a medical redshirt. Some wondered if her game would ever fully recover.

Not Davis.

“I just knew the work that I’ve put in,” she said, “just being in the gym by myself —shooting those step-back shots — I have that much confidence in myself.

“That last second shot, you do step-backs all the time. I don’t know how to put it into words.”

A blend of courage, poise and confidence is necessary to deliver a dagger like that, and Davis has plenty of each. In a 70-all game, the initial plan was to look for Hannah Stewart. But Iowa State, like it did with all-American Megan Gustafson all night, made post touches a difficult chore.

Davis then did what seniors leaders do.

A Stewart screen on Alexa Middleton provided some daylight when Bridget Carleton switched on Davis. Never mind the height difference there — Carleton standing 6-foot-1, Davis at 5-3 — the step-back and launch took care of the rest.    

“I’ll be honest, (Carleton) gave me too much space,” Davis said, “as did the rest of their guards. We knew coming in that they would be sagging off all the guards to make that entry pass into the post a little bit difficult. So coming off that screen as I backed up, she was in foul trouble and didn’t want foul me, especially on the drive.

“I got a little bit of daylight and shot over her.”

Iowa State immediately called timeout, giving Davis and her teammates a chance to soak in what had just unfolded.

Aside from the red-and-gold pockets, a solid Cy-Hawk crowd of 6,289 roared with jubilation. Kathleen Doyle embraced her teammate with a gigantic hug. Davis paid homage to Brooklyn Nets standout D'Angelo Russell with his trademark “ice in my veins” celebration.

“We couldn’t have guarded that play any better, in my opinion, so credit to her for sticking it,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “That’s what seniors do.”  

A missed Cyclone trey followed, sealing one of the series’ most riveting wins. Davis finished with just nine points on 3-for-10 shooting, but only one shot mattered once the final horn sounded.           

“T’s a dog. It’s the truth — it really is,” Doyle said. “She’s just a gamer and wants to be in the big moments. Going through two knee (surgeries), she’s a tough cookie. She deserved it.”

Zoom out a bit, and this was a crucial win as Iowa looks to match its lofty preseason expectations. Lisa Bluder’s squad had been hit-and-miss so far against its tougher nonconference foes, nearly staring down an 0-3 mark versus Power Five teams had it not been for a miraculous comeback against West Virginia. Letting a home Cy-Hawk game slip away would’ve stung in more ways than one.

Davis’ fight rescued Iowa just in time. Only fitting, given what she’s been through.  

“For me, it means a lot,” she said. “Just thinking about everything I’ve had to go through — all the pain, all the struggles, the long hours of rehab — and just working on myself before I could get back working with the team, seeing it pay off this far in the season is truly amazing.”

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.