Iowa forward Chase Coley attempts a shot during the Iowa/Wisconsin basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Badgers, 88-61. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa fights for second-round bye

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Iowa hopes to continue its stretch of dominance tonight against Rutgers — win or lose, Megan Gustafson should return with two more season records.

By Jordan Zuniga

jordan-zuniga@uiowa.edu

It’s been a fun season for the Iowa women’s basketball team, and it will try to continue the fun in its second-to-last regular-season game against Rutgers.

The Scarlet Knights (19-9) should prove to be a tough test for the Hawkeyes, especially considering the game takes place in New Jersey, where the Knights are 13-2 this season.

A note on the positive side for Iowa is that two of those home losses have come in Rutgers’ last three home games, and overall, the Scarlet Knights have dropped seven of their last 10.

This game and the final one are important for the Hawkeyes, because the outcomes will affect their seeding in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament.

Sitting just one game behind the spot that would give them that elusive double bye, so it’s crucial to win out in order to secure that spot.

Iowa would certainly like the bye, considering its limited depth, but the Hawkeyes confident either way.

“We’d love it,”  head coach Lisa Bluder said. “That’s a huge advantage to get that double bye. But all we can do is go out and win the next game. We’d love to have that, but if it doesn’t happen, we’ll make the best of it.”

Also at stake tonight is Iowa’s five-game winning streak. That has spanned this entire month and followed a tumultuous January.

Part of the reason for the Hawkeyes’ rough January was injuries to two starters, Makenzie Meyer and Tania Davis.

Losing two starters midseason will be a cramp in even the best team’s side, and Iowa was no different. Davis’ injury (out for the season) gave way to a promotion for redshirt freshman Lexi Sevillian to start in her place.

Offensively, it was a rough in the beginning. While Sevillian had some bright moments, she struggled from the floor, making just 29.6 percent (24-of-81) of her shots in the first 10 games after Davis went down.

Her performance over the last four games improved — Sevillian has shot 52 percent (13-of-25) in those games. Sevillian credits Davis’ continued support as part of the reason for her improved play.

“Tania is always there to help us not only on the court but off it as well,” Sevillian said. “Her presence means a lot to our team. Whenever she’s there to help us, that means a ton, and we learn from that every single day.”

While Sevillian’s offensive game has improved the past few games, Megan Gustafson’s has stayed the same — dominant as ever.

Her consistency has earned her numerous honors so far this season, and more are sure to come. She is on record-watch in Iowa’s game against Rutgers.

Gustafson’s 25 points on Sunday put her just 1 point behind Cindy Haugejorde’s nearly 30-year-old season-scoring record for the Hawkeyes.

Haugejorde’s record stands, for now, at 671. When asked about the significance of the record, Gustafson displayed her ever-present humility.

“I’m honored to be able to be compared to people who are great people who came here from the past,” she said. “But that’s not my priority. I just have to thank my teammates; they’re the ones setting me up.”

Scoring isn’t the only record Gustafson will be poised to break tonight; she is also 3 rebounds shy of breaking her own season rebounding record she set last year. It could prove to be a record-shattering night in New Jersey for Gustafson.

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