IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa forward Megan Gustafson spent most of Friday's game against Mercer on offense with a forearm in her side or back, and another help defender lurking nearby.
Her strength and touch were key to her going for 30 points and 16 rebounds in the Hawkeyes' 66-61 win, and she's seen double-teams all season long. But the Bears nearly pulled off the upset by forcing 24 turnovers and playing very physical defense. Iowa shot nine free throws to Mercer's zero.
Gustafson and Hawkeyes head coach Lisa Bluder expect today's second-round game against Missouri, which tips at 1 p.m. today on ESPN2, to be even more physical.
"Missouri's obviously a very good defensive team, good defense, and good 3-point defense," Bluder said Saturday. "Cunningham is just so much to handle. She is a terrific, All-American type player, but this is a team that I know that we're going to have to have an incredible focus tomorrow and it's going to be a lot more physical than it was yesterday, and we're going to have to be able to be mentally strong as well as physically strong tomorrow."
The Tigers will have a tall task against another high-scoring offense that averages just shy of 80 points per game and is centered on Gustafson, who leads the nation in scoring average at 28 points per game. She is ruthless with her back to the basket, almost impossible to front in the post because of her hands and footwork, and is an excellent offensive rebounder, which comes in handy for the 30 percent of the time her shots don't go in.
"She's a great player," Sophie Cunningham said of Gustafson. "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. We're ready to go, and I think from top to bottom we know what we have to get done."
Missouri has experience playing talented centers, and beat Mississippi State and Teaira McCowan in Starkville in front of a packed arena that will probably look similar to today's crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena: an Iowa official said 9,800 tickets had been sold as of 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Hawkeyes knew they didn't play their best game against Mercer, and their 24 turnovers were 10 more than their season average. The Tigers don't force a lot of turnovers, but Iowa showed it had a serious weakness in taking care of the ball. Missouri has the height, both on the perimeter in Cunningham, Jordan Roundtree and Amber Smith, and down low in Cierra Porter, Hannah Schuchts and Emmanuelle Tahane to pressure and deflect post-entry passes to either Gustafson or Hannah Stewart.
Missouri did a good job of slowing the pace and limiting Drake's transition scoring Friday afternoon, and had a slight advantage in rebounding. The Tigers might re-use the same paint-packing defense they used against Mississippi State to slow down McCowan, and try to force the Hawkeyes to make 3s.
Iowa shot 5-of-11 against Mercer from long range, and is shooting 34.8 percent from deep this year, but scored 63 percent of its points this season on 2-point shots. The Hawkeyes are more comfortable scoring inside, especially when it's Gustafson doing it.
Iowa also does not play a very deep bench. Missouri's is thin this time of year, too, and Haley Troup will be a game-time decision after twisting her ankle against Drake, but the Hawkeyes' non-starters played just 23 minutes total against Mercer and did not score.
A game that is grinding, slow and physical on both ends is probably in the Tigers' favor, especially if it's their opponent's key players that are fouling out at the end of the game, and not Missouri's.