Hawkeye women’s hoops bids farewell to seniors

Iowa women’s basketball will take on Northwestern in its final game of the regular season on March 3.

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Hawkeye women’s hoops bids farewell to seniors

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder (top center) gestures in conversation with center Megan Gustafson (bottom center) 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 head coach Lisa Bluder (top center) gestures in conversation with center Megan Gustafson (bottom center) 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 head coach Lisa Bluder (top center) gestures in conversation with center Megan Gustafson (bottom center) 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 head coach Lisa Bluder (top center) gestures in conversation with center Megan Gustafson (bottom center) 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, Assistant Sports Editor

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It’s been a hectic season for the No. 12 Iowa women’s basketball team, as it has played 17-straight Big Ten games without a bye.

The Hawkeyes finally caught a break this week and only had one contest, in which the team took down rival Nebraska on Monday.

That leaves one game in the regular season for the Hawkeyes, who will face Northwestern (16-12, 9-8 Big Ten) at home on March 3.

While several players are excited to get back on the court, the same cannot be said for senior forward Hannah Stewart, who knows the team’s game against Northwestern could be her final one at Carver-Hawkeye.

“I don’t want it to come,” Stewart said. “I don’t want it to be here. Megan [Gustafson] and Tania [Davis] — we have one of the best point guards and post players in the country — and I’m so blessed to be able to play with them [for four years].”

Because it’s the last home game of the season, the matchup against Northwestern will be Senior Day for the Hawkeyes. One of the program’s most memorable senior classes in its history may take its home court for the final time on March 3.

“They’ve made an impact on Iowa City,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “They’ve made this community better.”

Much of the careers of the three seniors have been somewhat non-traditional. Of course, fans know how non-traditional center Gustafson’s career has been – the senior is shattering most of Iowa’s record books for both men and women. But Davis missed almost half of her collegiate playing time with ACL issues, and Stewart had to fight for playing time.

Most of the playing time Stewart experienced in her first three years as a player came off the bench.

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“Hannah’s worked so hard to be a starter this year,” Bluder said. “She sits in the background working her tail off and not getting much playing time those first two years. So I couldn’t be happier for her earning that starting role.”

It will be the first time the Hawkeyes have taken on the Wildcats so far this season. Northwestern is sixth in the Big Ten standings, but it has dropped four out of its last six games.

Northwestern’s defense – which gives up an average of 59.5 points per game – has been one of the best in the conference this season. It ranks third in the Big Ten in opposing field goal percentage (37.3). But Iowa leads the nation in field goal percentage and fared pretty well against the teams who rank at the top of the conference in field goal defense like Rutgers and Maryland.

The Wildcat offense is led by sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam, who puts up 16.8 points per contest. Senior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah will take on Stewart down low on March 3. She averages a double-double, with 11.1 points and 11.4 rebounds.

But at least for one day, basketball isn’t the focus of a women’s game as Iowa bids farewell to Davis, Stewart, and Gustafson.

“It’s going to be a great environment,” Bluder said. “I’m anticipating the biggest crowd since C. Vivian Stringer was here, and rightfully so. Undefeated at home and three amazing seniors. You won’t want to miss the ceremony of the game.”

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