GREENSBORO, N.C. — From sweet to elite, things just keep getting better for the Iowa women’s basketball team.
Inside and out, the eighth-ranked Hawkeyes were at their best Saturday as they rolled to a 79-61 victory in a Sweet 16 match-up against 10th-ranked North Carolina State to advance to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993.
"The best part is that we’re not done yet," senior center Megan Gustafson said after leading the Hawkeyes on their deepest postseason run in 26 years.
Gustafson matched an NCAA single-season record with her 33rd double-double of Iowa’s 29-6 season, finishing with 27 points and 12 rebounds to send the Hawkeyes into a 6 p.m. matchup with top-ranked Baylor on Monday when a Final Four berth will be on the line.
The Bears, improving to 34-1 on the year, advanced with a 93-68 win over South Carolina.
"It’s been magical year, and we don’t want to see it end," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "We want to keep going, keep this rolling and why not? We’re one step away from the Final Four."
The Hawkeyes used plenty of teamwork on both ends of the court to advance to the Elite Eight for the fourth time in the program’s history.
Iowa recorded assists on 24 of its 31 baskets, facilitating 54.4-percent shooting that kept the Wolfpack scrambling inside and out.
"That’s kind of who we are," Bluder said.
On the other end of the floor, the Hawkeyes prevented North Carolina State from getting much going offensively.
The Wolfpack hit just 4-of-18 shots from 3-point range and stomached 34.8-percent shooting overall which matched the second-worst effort of the season.
"We just weren’t ourselves," North Carolina State coach Wes Moore said. "Gustafson obviously is an awesome player, and it felt like the rest of their team really had a great game around her. When they’re hitting 3s and she does what she does on the block, it’s a tough matchup."
After falling behind 37-24 by halftime, the Wolfpack did make a run at Iowa in the third quarter.
North Carolina State cut the Hawkeye lead to 43-38 on a jumper by Aislinn Konig with 4 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
"We made a nice run and came down four or five times in a row and had some decent looks, but the ball just didn’t go in," Moore said. "That was our chance to really put some pressure on them and maybe get over the top, but it wasn’t meant to be."
A 3-pointer from the corner by Alexis Sevillian — one of seven in the game by the Hawkeyes — followed by a pair of baskets by Gustafson provided Iowa’s answer, allowing the Hawkeyes to regain a 50-40 advantage with 2:55 left in the quarter.
"We knew they were going to make a little bit of a run at some point, but we just needed to get back defensively," Gustafson said. "They were running on us a little bit, kind of doing what we do. We just needed to bring our intensity back. Thankfully, we were able to do that."
The Hawkeyes retained a double-digit lead the rest of the game, carrying a 56-44 margin into the final quarter.
Sevillian, Makenzie Meyer and Tania Davis made certain of that. They all hit 3-point baskets during a two-and-a-half minute stretch midway through the final quarter to secure the victory.
Forward Hannah Stewart, who recorded the third double-double of her career with a 16-point, 11-rebound effort, said Iowa’s ability to go inside and out ultimately made the difference.
"We just know each other," Stewart said. "We know what each of the guard’s strengths are, and the guards know us really well. Having that kind of experience is a huge advantage."
Gustafson said that led Iowa to perform the way it needed to when North Carolina State (28-6) made its run.
"It’s crucial to have those veteran players that have been in these situations," Gustafson said. "… It’s important to have that calm presence out there, that level of experience on the court."
Iowa demonstrated that during the opening quarter.
Gustafson took just one shot from the field and scored just four points in the first quarter, but five Hawkeyes scored to send Iowa on its way to a 16-11 lead.
A jumper by Amanda Ollinger with 4:51 to go in the quarter started a run of eight unanswered points and put Iowa ahead to stay at 10-9.
Wolfpack freshman center Elissa Cunane picked up her second foul just over 30 seconds into the second quarter and sat out the next five minutes, but the Hawkeyes didn’t pound the ball inside to Gustafson.
Instead, Iowa continued to spread the ball around and grew its lead to 30-16 on a pair of Makenzie Meyer free throws with 5:19 left in half.
Davis scored half of her 10 points during that stretch, and Doyle and Meyer both added to their nine-point games as Iowa balanced its attack on its way to its eighth straight victory.
"We were able to get everybody involved and that’s when we’re at our best," Gustafson said.
Kiara Leslie led four North Carolina State players in double figures with a 16-point game while Cunane finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.