Iowa coach Lisa Bluder is flanked by seniors Tania Davis, Hannah Stewart and Megan Gustafson after a 74-50 win against Northwestern. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — In a season full of riveting home moments, Sunday’s showing may have been the most impressive yet. Lisa Bluder called for an electric environment earlier in the week. The Hawkeyes and their fans delivered in emphatic fashion.
Iowa finished the regular season undefeated at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, toppling Northwestern, 74-50, in front of a season-high 12,051 on senior day. The parking lots were full some 30 minutes before tipoff. The curtains stayed pulled back for a second straight game.
Per usual, those in attendance had to wait postgame for senior day celebrations. But Iowa (23-6, 14-4, Big Ten Conference) gave them a show well before. The Hawkeyes are a different animal when the home crowd starts pumping.
Megan Gustafson rolled to another double-double, crushing Northwestern (16-13, 9-9) with 34 points and 12 rebounds. The Wildcats had zero answers for her in a forceful second-half performance. She checked out late in the fourth to a raucous cheer.
Fellow seniors Hannah Stewart (12 points, six rebounds) and Tania Davis (seven points) got similar ovations upon exiting for the final time. Iowa’s 2019 class has buoyed much of this year’s success with its leadership and poise. Sunday was no different.
"These seniors deserve to have that kind of sendoff today," Bluder said. "So proud of what they've accomplished in the last four years. They've left their imprint on our program — there's no doubt about it, both in the stat books and also culturally. They've shown the younger class how to be Hawks and what is expected of Hawkeyes.
"For us to have the biggest crowd of the year today is completely fitting. It's the last game of the year, the senior ceremony at the end and three amazing seniors. We're just glad that everyone came out to support them."
Iowa’s greatest basketball player of all time speaks to the home crowd after a 74-50 win against Northwestern. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
A 28-23 halftime lead morphed into a second-half rout. The Hawkeyes led by 15-plus throughout the entire fourth quarter, mostly thanks to Gustafson, who had 24 on 9-for-10 shooting after intermission.
If Sunday’s environment was a glimpse of what could come in the NCAA Tournament, Iowa opponents are in for a rude stay. Regardless of what happens at next week’s Big Ten Tournament, the Hawkeyes are almost guaranteed to host first- and second-round games.
Two wins there would give Iowa its sixth undefeated home season in program history. The previous five teams all made the Sweet Sixteen.
"Man, when you play in Carver, it's just different," Stewart said. "It's like having a sixth man on the court with you. If we are able to host the first couple rounds of the (NCAA) Tournament, that's huge. That's such an advantage, and we really, really hope we can, because we'll know that Hawk fans will show up like (they did) today.
"It's honestly such an honor to play in front of so many fans who love you and invest in you."
First, it’s a trip to Indianapolis. As the No. 2 seed, Iowa will face the Indiana-Minnesota winner at 5:30 p.m. (CT) next Friday. The Hawkeyes are seeking their first Big Ten Tournament title since 2001.
After its shocking stumble at Indiana last Thursday, Iowa needed a strong final week before diving into the postseason. Monday's road win at Nebraska, coupled with Sunday's home shellacking have the Hawkeyes back on track heading into crunch time.
"We've had some incredible memories on this court," Gustafson said, "and we definitely want to keep it going. We're going to keep fighting like crazy."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.