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No. 2 Iowa looks to clinch Sweet 16 spot vs. Missouri

March 23, 2019
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Iowa guard Makenzie Meyer (3) celebrates at the end of a first-round game against against Mercer in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Friday, March 22, 2019, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 66-61. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s path to the Sweet 16 has never been clearer.

If the Hawkeyes play as poorly on Sunday as they did on Friday, that won’t matter.

Iowa (27-6) will have home-court advantage and Megan Gustafson, the best player in school history, on its side when it hosts seventh-seeded Missouri (24-10). But after coming dangerously close to falling victim to the first 15 vs. 2 seed upset in the history of the women’s NCAA Tournament, the Hawkeyes know they’ll have to be much sharper against the Tigers.

Iowa, which got upset by 11th-seeded Creighton in the 2018 postseason, beat Mercer 66-61 for its first NCAA win in four years despite committing a season-high 24 turnovers.

“Sometimes you want something so badly,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “You remember last year and you want to do so well for these people that came out to watch us play. So I think that got to us a little bit. We’ll be more prepared for that on Sunday for sure.”

The Tigers (24-10) didn’t exactly cruise into the second round either. They needed a well-timed foul in the final second of overtime to grab a 77-76 lead over 10th-seeded Drake — and then watched helplessly as Becca Hittner’s potential game-winning 3 clanked off the back of the iron.

Here are some keys to consider as the Hawkeyes prepare to host Missouri. The Tigers are coached by Robin Pingeton, who was an NAIA All American while playing for Bluder at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.

MAGNIFICENT MEGAN

Gustafson, a senior and a potential national player of the year, had never won an NCAA Tournament game before Friday. She was predictably brilliant against the Bears, scoring 30 points on 14 of 16 shooting with 16 rebounds in 36 minutes. “Great player, and she’s a lot of their offense and we’re going to have to shut her down. But I know our team is prepared,” Missouri senior guard Sophie Cunningham said.

SCOUTING THE TIGERS

Missouri is back in the second round for the third time in four years. But it’s been 18 years since the program made its only trip to the Sweet 16. The Tigers are led by Cunningham, who had 21 points and went 10 for 10 from the line in the win over Drake, and Cierra Porter, who scored 18 points with three blocks on Friday. Cunningham and Porter are the only players in Mizzou history to win three NCAA games. “A chance for them to get to Sweet 16 would be awfully special. And I think it’s going to be a battle,” Pingeton said.

THE NUMBERS

Iowa is 16-0 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena this season. The Hawkeyes have won 20 straight at home dating back to last season. ... Missouri has won in overtime twice already this month. The Tigers beat Kentucky 70-68 two weeks ago. ...Iowa didn’t get any points from its bench against Mercer.

SHE SAID IT

“You never have those kind of thoughts that this kid could someday be a BCS coach at an SEC school, doing so well that they’re in the top 32 in the country,” Bluder said about coaching against a former player of hers in the postseason. I mean, you can’t think that type of story. That’s just unbelievable. And she’s done a great job with it.”

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