“Are you going to let me score more points than you?” Stewart jokingly asked her All-American post buddy. “I think she took it as a challenge.”
The subsequent scoring duel, egged on by a season-high 9,319 fans inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, accounted for 46 points and led the No. 17 Hawkeyes (16-4 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) to their fifth consecutive win.
Gustafson scored a game-high 25 points with 11 rebounds — her NCAA-leading 19th double-double of the season. Stewart was 10 of 12 from the field, setting career-highs in field goals and points (21). She added seven rebounds (three offensive).
In Iowa’s previous game, a 72-66 victory over Rutgers on Wednesday, Stewart attempted just four field goals, making two. She wasn’t happy.
The next few nights, when classes finished, Stewart went into the gymnasium and put up shot after shot.
“I cleared my head and shot baskets and played basketball,” Stewart said. “I realized I had been thinking on things too much.”
Purdue (15-7, 6-3) stormed back from a 13-point deficit to tie the game at 47 with 2:02 left in the third quarter. The opening minute of the fourth quarter belonged to Gustafson. A left-handed hook extended a two-point lead to 51-47. On defense she blocked a shot, then seconds later sank another left-handed hook to give Iowa breathing room.
“Having that momentum is huge and the crowd was amazing,” Gustafson said. “That is one of the biggest crowds I have played in front of in Carver. That was special. They keep us going and it’s infectious to everyone else. We are able to feed off that and the momentum helped.”
Iowa shot 54 percent from the field against a Boilermaker defense that hadn’t allowed an opponent to shoot better than 41 percent in its last six games. Not only was Stewart hot from the field, but both Monika Czinano and Amanda Ollinger seized opportunities off the bench and made their only field goal attempts.
Purdue junior Dominique Oden scored 17 points with nine rebounds and five assists,\; sophomore Karissa McLaughlin added 16 points and four 3-point field goals.
QUOTING COACH BLUDER
“I feel we’ve positioned ourselves. The second half (of the conference season) is a little harder for us because we have five road games and only four home games. It becomes a little more difficult, but great teams win on the road and we have to be able to do that.”
STATISTIC OF THE GAME
Iowa handed out 24 assists on 30 made field goals. It is the fourth time in the last five games that the Hawkeyes have had at least 24 assists in a game. Iowa is second in the nation, averaging 22.3 assists per game.
“As a guard, it’s so fun to give the ball to a teammate and give them an opportunity to score,” said junior Makenzie Meyer, who had four assists. “We were able to get a lot of looks off our assists.”
HOW ABOUT THAT CROWD?
It is the second time this season Iowa has played in front of a crowd of at least 9,000. There were 9,520 at the Big Ten opener between Iowa and Michigan State on Dec. 30 in East Lansing, Michigan.
Sunday marked the largest Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd since 9,838 watched Iowa defeat Indiana, 76-73, on Feb. 21, 2016.
“We had an amazing crowd and they came out and gave us energy,” Bluder said. “When it tied up in the third quarter, we really needed it. We want to play for our fans, we love them and appreciate their support so much.”
Now, the head Hawkeye has a sellout on her mind.
“These women work so hard and I think they deserve it,” Bluder continued. “I think Carver-Hawkeye should be full. I think we had 5,000 missing people today. Where are they?”
After playing their last two games at home, the Hawkeyes will go on the road for the next two games beginning at Michigan (12-9, 3-6) on Thursday. Tip-off from the Crisler Center is 5 p.m. (CT) and the game will be televised by BTN. Iowa won the first meeting, 75-61, on Jan. 17 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Wolverines are 8-1 in the Crisler Center with their first loss coming against Michigan State on Sunday, 77-73.
“It is going to be a challenging week for us, but we won two road game last week,” Bluder said, “so there is no reason we can’t do it.”