Iowa women’s basketball takes advantage of home-court opportunity

The Iowa women’s basketball team has been stellar at home for the past two seasons. On Sunday, three seniors will play their final game at Carver-Hawkeye with the hopes of punching their tickets to the Sweet 16.

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Roman Slabach

Megan Gustafson’s (10) family cheers her on during the Iowa/Mercer NCAA Tournament first round women’s basketball game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa on Friday, March 22, 2019. The Hawkeyes beat the Bears 66-61.

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

When most people think about the type of sports Hawkeye fans enjoy most, many would think about football, wrestling, or even men’s basketball.

Few would think that women’s basketball might deserve a spot on that list, but it does.

This will mark the 10th-straight season Iowa will rank among the top-25 teams in average home attendance.

Iowa has averaged about 6,329 fans a game this season, however, the past three Hawkeye home games have averaged 11,162.

“They are incredible,” senior Megan Gustafson said. “It’s been amazing to play in front of these amazing crowds the last couple games. This is awesome and we’re really looking forward to [March 24] too.”

Those numbers may not stack up to what the men’s team averages, but the passion of the fans is exceptional.

That passion was particularly palpable in Friday’s game, when Iowa eked out a 66-61 win over Mercer to the delight of 10,716 fans.

“Our crowd was fabulous [Friday],” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “They probably helped us get those five points that we really needed, so just a tremendous crowd.”

Senior forward Hannah Stewart echoed her coach.

“Yesterday was the loudest I’ve heard Carver,” she said. “The fans are like our sixth man. It’s awesome the faith they have in us.”

 

Iowa’s senior class has certainly enjoyed the Carver-Hawkeye home-court advantage in their tenure at Iowa, amassing a 57-12 record over their four years.

It’s an advantage that has been even more pronounced over the past two years, where they have gone 29-3, including a 20-game win streak dating back to last season.

The Hawkeyes’ success at home over the past several seasons have made hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament even sweeter.

“It’s been nice that we’ve been able to have two more games in Carver,” Bluder said. “A lot of people around the country don’t get to do that. Their senior night is actually their last night.”

A successful team is a major reason fans have flocked to Iowa’s games, however, it always seems to be Gustafson who steals the show.

“[Fans] are coming out because of these three seniors,” Bluder said. “[Gustafson] deserves to go out of here with a win, and that’s what we’re going to hope to give her.”

To do that, the Hawkeyes are going to have to beat a tough Missouri team that features a tough 1-2 punch with Sophie Cunningham and Cierra Porter.

“We’ve got to be ready for [them],” Gustafson said. “They both work pretty well together. We just have to be ready and prepared.”

The March 24 game won’t just be the last one for Gustafson, but also her fellow seniors, Stewart and Tania Davis.

This year’s senior class has been a special one at Iowa. It has totaled 90 wins, which puts it just three wins behind the 2014-15 class for the most wins for a senior group under Bluder.

It’s a class that has been extremely special for Bluder, but also for the fans, which is why Davis is positive the crowd will have its normal zeal.

“I want to see it packed [March 24],” she said. “If they can come out at 1 p.m. on a Friday, we know they’ll show up in force [March 24]. We know it will be loud.”

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