Loss provides experience for Iowa

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Loss provides experience for Iowa

Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle drives to the hoop during the Iowa/Creighton NCAA tournament first round basketball game at Pauley Pavilion on UCLA's campus in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 17, 2018. The Bluejays defeated the Hawkeyes, 76-70. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle drives to the hoop during the Iowa/Creighton NCAA tournament first round basketball game at Pauley Pavilion on UCLA's campus in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 17, 2018. The Bluejays defeated the Hawkeyes, 76-70. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle drives to the hoop during the Iowa/Creighton NCAA tournament first round basketball game at Pauley Pavilion on UCLA's campus in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 17, 2018. The Bluejays defeated the Hawkeyes, 76-70. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle drives to the hoop during the Iowa/Creighton NCAA tournament first round basketball game at Pauley Pavilion on UCLA's campus in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 17, 2018. The Bluejays defeated the Hawkeyes, 76-70. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

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LOS ANGELES – An improbable season ended in an improbable way on March 17 for the Iowa women’s basketball team. The Hawkeyes fell in a hard-fought battle to No. 11 seed Creighton and its tsunami of 3s, 76-70.

In a season in which Iowa battled through a tight roster and key injuries and against those odds still found a way to be a sixth seed in the tournament, that’s not how the Hawkeyes hoped it would end.

March 17 was certainly a bitter day for the Hawkeyes, but this is a team that will return 86.4 percent of its scoring next season, something that gives this team a lot of hope.

“We all want to be back here next year,” Kathleen Doyle said. “We’ll all be really hungry and motivated all season long.”

RELATED: Creighton’s downpour from deep knocks Iowa out of NCAA Tournament

Perhaps no one will be more motivated than Hawkeye star Megan Gustafson, who comes off one of the best seasons ever by a Hawkeye. The junior was a consensus All-American, awarded Big Ten Player of the Year while leading the nation in scoring with 25.6 points per game, was top five in rebounds with 12.8 per game, and also led the nation in field-goal percentage, shooting a sizzling 67.1 percent.

It’s hard to think that she could possibly get any better, but her statistics have climbed each season for Iowa, and it’s hard to believe next season will be any different.

(Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

But anyone who knows Gustafson knows that stats aren’t important to her. Wins — specifically, wins in March are on her radar.

“This really set this up for next year,” Gustafson said about the tourney loss. “We are young, and I think having this experience in the NCAA is huge. This is our first time, and we definitely want to get back here next year and to really make some noise.”

The problem for Iowa won’t be Gustafson, it will be her supporting cast.

At critical times in March this season, Gustafson seemed to be singled-handedly willing this team through games. She put up 48 points against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament, only to see her team fall just short.

She put up 29 points in the season finale, including 9 fourth-quarter points, but that also ended in a losing effort.

Taking out Gustafson’s field goals in the last two games, the Hawkeyes shot just 37 percent (28-of-75), and that needs to change.

Another area Iowa needs to improve in is turnovers; the Hawkeyes averaged 16.2 per game, 211th in the nation. That number will be helped with the return of point guard Tania Davis, who missed a large chunk of the season for the second-straight year with a torn ACL.

It was a season that both exceeded and fell short of expectations, but this Hawkeye team gained some valuable experience and appears to be poised for a deep run in next year’s tournament.

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