LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Supporters from all over piled into Iowa’s basketball facility, anxious to catch a glimpse of this special product. The noise grew louder and louder that this year could be a memorable one.

No, this wasn’t a scene from March — or even November.

This was in July, a whole four months before the season’s opening tip. 

It’s not often women’s basketball teams this elite roll through Iowa City — and the 2019 Hawkeyes knew that. Lofty expectations surfaced earlier than any point during Lisa Bluder’s Iowa tenure as head coach. Shouldering those can become a burden for an unfocused squad.

The Hawkeyes didn’t run from expectations. They embraced them. It’s hard to argue they weren’t met.

“There were high expectations, but it wasn’t pressure,” Bluder said after Monday’s 85-53 season-ending loss to Baylor in the Elite Eight. “We embraced it. We loved it. We wanted to be the team that was known as being a good team. So in my mind, it wasn’t pressure. It was more like we just wanted to keep getting better and better and better all the time.”

Leistikow: Her incredible career over, Megan Gustafson's Iowa legacy goes beyond numbers

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

At places like Connecticut, Baylor, Notre Dame and others — where deep postseason runs and Final Four appearances occur regularly — no one season feels like it has to be “the year.” Iowa, while boasting some impressive credentials, hadn’t been to the Elite Eight in almost three decades. It had only made it past the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend once since 1996.

So when all the pieces fell into place for Iowa to end those droughts and more, it became clear that anything short of an emphatic surge was going to leave an empty feeling.

Surge the Hawkeyes did.

We’ll start with the milestones. Iowa’s 29 wins tied a school record, matched only by the 1987-88 squad. Its Elite Eight trip was just the fourth in program history and the first since 1993.

The Hawkeyes owned Iowa City, going undefeated at home for only the sixth time. Iowa’s enthralling ride to its first Big Ten Tournament title in 17 years more than made up for falling short of a regular-season conference crown.

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

Even as a layer of sadness hung over the Iowa locker room following Monday’s lopsided loss, appreciation arose from disappointment. Those in black and gold understood what had been accomplished, even as tears came flowing out.

“We definitely surpassed a lot of expectations,” senior Tania Davis said. “It was a great year.

“For me, I knew we were good. But for us to grow the way that we did every single day in practice and to get better and to peak every single day, it never felt like we were remaining the same. It never felt like we were going backwards. It always felt like we were going up. We just continued to progress. Obviously not the ending that we wanted, but I definitely felt like we came out and took care of business this season.”     

Buoying this season’s success was a three-deep senior group that will long be remembered. Davis, Hannah Stewart and Megan Gustafson finish as Iowa’s highest scoring class, combining for 4,619 points over four years.

Davis’ perseverance, Stewart’s patience and Gustafson’s relentless dominance blended together to form a special trio.