Hawkeye women’s hoops prepares for Big Ten-leading Terps

The Iowa women face their last major test of the regular season against Maryland on Feb. 17.

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Hawkeye women’s hoops prepares for Big Ten-leading Terps

Iowa guard Tania Davis falls while dribbling to the basket during the Iowa/Illinois women's basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, February 14, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 88-66.

Iowa guard Tania Davis falls while dribbling to the basket during the Iowa/Illinois women's basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, February 14, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 88-66.

Lily Smith

Iowa guard Tania Davis falls while dribbling to the basket during the Iowa/Illinois women's basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, February 14, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 88-66.

Lily Smith

Lily Smith

Iowa guard Tania Davis falls while dribbling to the basket during the Iowa/Illinois women's basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, February 14, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 88-66.

Pete Mills, Sports Reporter

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Iowa women’s basketball’s last major test of the regular season comes on the afternoon of Feb. 17 in Carver-Hawkeye against Maryland.

Maryland is at the top of the conference standings. The Terrapins only have two losses on the season, to Michigan State and Rutgers, and they’ve been on a tear recently, winning their last seven.

Iowa is trailing closely at the No. 2 spot in the standings. Because it’s the lone regular-season meeting between the two teams, tension will be high.

The Terps are hot, but Iowa took down then-conference-leading Rutgers at home earlier this season. Maryland also hasn’t dealt with center Megan Gustafson yet this year.

Gustafson is nearing the unknown in the women’s basketball program. A player has never reached the 2,500-point mark in Iowa women’s history. Gustafson, though, is not concerned with her landmarks.

“I didn’t even know that,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “She wouldn’t know that. She wouldn’t care. She’s not impressed by her own performances. It’s her job to do that.”

What is important to Gustafson is focused team wins. Barely a word has come out of her mouth about her records and honors, but she is focused game after game.

“Our full focus is on Illinois, but our next game against Maryland will be fun, too,” she said before Iowa’s game against Illinois on Thursday.

Lily Smith
Iowa center Megan Gustafson looks to the basket during the Iowa/Illinois women’s basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, February 14, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 88-66.

Fun is a good word for it. Both of these teams rank in the conference’s top three in scoring offense, field-goal percentage, assists, and defensive rebounding. Iowa leads the Big Ten in scoring and is second in the nation in field-goal percentage.

It’s clear that both teams have weapons.

Freshman forward Shakira Austin will match up with Iowa’s Hannah Stewart down low. Austin has made her mark in her first season, grabbing 10 boards (fourth in the conference) and 8.6 points per game. She also ranks second in the conference in blocked shots with 2.5.

Leading the Terrapins in scoring is junior guard Kalia Charles, who is fifth in the Big Ten in scoring at 16 points per game.

With Iowa’s Makenzie Meyer on limited minutes because of an injury, fans will see fresh faces in Iowa’s backcourt.

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Freshman Tomi Taiwo is a future piece of Iowa’s team. With Meyer’s injury, Taiwo has seen an increase in minutes and in production. Even though she’s young, the team is confident that she can keep up with the top guards in the conference.

“It’s nice to know that Coach Bluder believes in me,” Taiwo said. “Obviously, we want [Meyer] back, but it’s nice the team trusts me.”

Certainly, the Hawkeyes are happy the game is on their home court. Iowa has been much better at home this season, with the defense especially working at high efficiency.

But it all comes back to Gustafson. The national leader in points per game is dominant against whatever is thrown at her. Even in the team’s early season losses to a dominant defensive team such as Notre Dame, Gustafson pounded opponents in the paint.

Gustafson’s impossible to prepare for, and Iowa fans can be sure that she’ll be at peak performance in her last home games in Carver-Hawkeye.

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