The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Gustafson, Jennings lead Iowa

Peter Kim
Iowa guard Ally Disterhoft attempts to retrieve the ball at the Carver Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. The Hawkeyes defeated Illinois, 61-56. (The Daily Iowan/Peter Kim)

The Iowa women’s basketball team survived Illinois, 61-56.

By Mario Williams
[email protected]

Hawkeye freshman Megan Gustafson and sophomore Whitney Jennings stuck out a little more than usual in the Iowa women’s basketball team’s 61-56 win over Illinois on Feb. 27 in Carver-Hawkeye.

Not that these two players are any strangers to attention. But their games stood out, which played a large part in the Hawks’ victory.

Gustafson’s strong presence in the paint and Jennings’ explosive presence from behind the arc both were keys to Iowa’s win. It was, after all, the last game of the regular season, and the Hawkeyes have been in must-win mode for some time now.

“It was extremely important to come out here and get this win,” junior Ally Disterhoft said after the game.

The up-and-down Illini had no answer for Gustafson’s presence down low and couldn’t stop Jennings.

Coming off a sloppy loss against Penn State prior to the Illinois matchup, Iowa needed a win in its last regular-season game in Carver-Hawkeye.

“I’m happy with the win at home,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “I appreciate the crowd coming out to support us today. I know it wasn’t like a lot at stake coming in to this game for the crowd, and I just really appreciate them making the effort to be here even if there wasn’t a Big Ten championship on the line. That means a lot to us.”

Iowa played sloppily in the first half but still led by 10 at halftime. Shooting just 39.4 percent from the field and 20 percent from the 3-point line at the half, the Hawks very much needed a change. Iowa committed 7 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, and Gustafson and Jennings combined for 18 of Iowa’s 33 points at the half.

Illinois didn’t play solidly, either, shooting 34.5 percent from the field at the half, 18.2 percent from downtown.

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Jennings knocked down two 3-pointers in the third quarter that shifted the game. The sophomore also matched her career-high with four 3-pointers made. She finished 4-of-10 from downtown, scoring 14 points, grabbing 3 rebounds, and tallying an assist.

Iowa went on a 16-0 run in the third quarter and left Illinois silent. The Hawks were up by 18 points when the quarter concluded, but that lead melted when the Illini rallied.

The Hawkeyes scored only 6 points in the fourth quarter, and Illinois, which scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, was down by just 1 point with a minute and six seconds remaining.

“That’s kind of been the story for us,” Bluder said. “It was obviously a game of momentum, a game of swings. When we’re hitting from 3, we’re really rolling, but when we’re not hitting from 3 and keep shooting them … we shot too many today.”

But Gustafson helped Iowa gut out a needed win. The freshman scored with 48 seconds remaining to give Iowa a 3-point lead at 59-56.  Then sophomore Chase Coley was fouled and knocked down two free throws to give Iowa its eighth Big Ten win.

“I just got the ball, and I kind of felt that she [Illini star Chatrice White] was on a different side,” Gustafson said. “I turned to middle and felt confident.”

Gustafson finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, with her double-double the seventh of the season. The Hawks also outrebounded Illinois, 44-31.

Ninth-seed Iowa will compete against eighth-seed Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday in Indianapolis. The Hawks are 1-1 against the Wolverines this season.

“Anything can happen,” Bluder said. “We want to go into that Big Ten Tournament and do as well as we can.”

Follow @Marioxwilliams for Iowa women’s basketball news, updates, and analysis.

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