By Sean Bock
The Iowa women’s basketball players forgot to set their wake-up alarms for 4:30 p.m. Nov. 11.
It was almost déjà vu from the Nov. 10 performance against Quinnipiac.
Still, the Hawkeyes were able to hold off the pesky Western Kentucky Lady Hilltoppers, 104-97, in Carver-Hawkeye to clinch the Hawkeye Challenge. They had fallen short in last year’s title game.
“It was a great victory for our team,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “When you are going against somebody the caliber of Western Kentucky, and you’re down 5 with a minute to go and can pull out a victory, I thought our team showed amazing grit tonight, and they showed poise in that situation.”
A win is a win, but it took about 35 minutes for the Hawkeyes to realize they had to execute to earn the victory.
Iowa trailed by as many as 10 in the fourth quarter, but used a 13-0 run in a three-minute span to take an 88-85 lead with 3:41 left in the game. That was its first lead since 2-0 at the start of the contest.
The Hilltoppers proceeded to go on an 8-0 run, forcing the game into overtime. The Hawkeyes outscored Western Kentucky 11-4 in the extra period to secure the hard-fought victory.
Junior forward Megan Gustafson scored a career-high 35 points and 17 rebounds, which earned her Outstanding Player of the Tournament. She also reached a milestone in her dominating performance, scoring her 1,000th career point in the first quarter.
“I have to credit to my teammates and coaches,” she said. “They’re always there for me, they give me great passes and set up plays for me. I’m really appreciative of them, and I just do it for them.”
While Gustafson couldn’t be tamed down low, the backcourt held up its end of the bargain as well.
Sophomore Kathleen Doyle had 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists before falling awkwardly on her ankle late in the fourth quarter. After the game, Bluder said it doesn’t look good for the starting guard.
Makenzie Meyer was red-hot from behind the arc, finishing with 12 points, all from 3-point land. Meyer also dished out 7 assists.
“All my coaches and teammates were telling me to keep shooting the ball,” Meyer said. “So their confidence gave me confidence [in myself], and once I knocked one down, it felt like I kind of broke that barrier.”
Alexis Sevillian provided a much-needed spark off the bench, scoring 11 points while going 3-of-8 from deep.
Iowa had problems guarding Western Kentucky for much of the contest.
The Hilltoppers shot 54 percent (14-of-26) from behind the arc and seemed to have an answer every time the Hawkeyes tried to pull ahead.
Forward Ivy Brown poured in 35 points and shot 6-of-9 from 3, but she fouled with two minutes left in overtime.
Dee Given and Tashia Brown each chipped in 16 points for Western Kentucky.
Iowa was able to pull out difficult victories on back-to-back nights, which makes its start to the season that much more impressive.
“A lot of teams are 2-0 this time of year, but they’re not 2-0 going against the competition we have,” Bluder said. “I believe this is the toughest opening tournament in the United States, and to come out of it 2-0, I’m really proud of our team.”
The Hawkeyes (2-0) will return to action Nov. 15 against Northern Illinois in Carver-Hawkeye.