B10 Rutgers Iowa Basketball

Iowa forward Hannah Stewart strips the ball from Rutgers forward Tekia Mack during the second half of the Big Ten tournament semifinal earlier this month in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — Tania Davis delivered again, just when Iowa needed her the most.

The senior guard who teammate Hannah Stewart says has "ice in her veins" helped the 10th-ranked Hawkeyes hold off Rutgers 72-67 and earn a spot in the championship game of the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament for the first time since 2014.

It was Davis’ late 3-pointer that erased a one-point Indiana lead in Friday’s quarterfinals, and on Saturday, she buried a shot from the left corner with 1 minute, 32 seconds remaining after the Scarlet Knights had pulled within 65-62.

"I live for those moments," Davis said. "I work on those in practice every day, one after another, just to be ready when I’m needed."

Iowa needed Davis and her teammates after Rutgers ramped up its full-court defensive pressure to chip away at a 51-31 lead the Hawkeyes had taken on a Kathleen Doyle 3-pointer just past the midpoint of the third quarter.

"They come out and get after it with that press. It’s what they do," Iowa senior Hannah Stewart said. "We got up 20, maybe got a little lax, and they didn’t back down."

The Scarlet Knights trailed 57-44 after three quarters but forced the Hawkeyes into three of their 17 turnovers during the opening minutes of fourth, pulling within 61-58 on a drive by Noga Peleg Pelc with 4:39 remaining.

Stewart and Megan Gustafson each answered baskets by Rutgers before Davis drilled her look from behind the arc in the left corner to give the Hawkeyes a two-possession lead.

"She’s got ice in her veins," Stewart sad. "Tania was the one who kept us together when they started to come back. She kept saying ‘we’re going to win this, we’re going to win’ and the last couple minutes, there was never a doubt."

Iowa (25-6) will face Maryland, which held off Michigan 73-72 in Saturday’s first semifinal in today’s 5 p.m. championship game. The Terrapins (28-3) will be playing in the Big Ten title match-up for the fifth straight year.

"Sitting out with my knees (following a pair of ACL surgeries) the past two years, I was just looking forward to coming over here and getting a chance to play in this tournament again," Davis said. "To have a chance to win it, to play for a championship, it’s a great feeling. Now, we’ve got to go get it."

The Hawkeyes effort Saturday was a collaborative one.

Gustafson struggled early, hitting just four of the 10 shots she attempted in the first half.

That didn’t prevent the Big Ten player of the year from finishing with a game-high 20 points and 12 rebounds, her 29th double-double of the season. Gustafson was also credited with three blocks.

"The shots, they just weren’t falling early," Gustafson said. "It was a tough start, but my teammates picked things up, and I kept trying to do other things, rebound, defend, block a shot or two, whatever I could."

Stewart and Makenzie Meyer helped Iowa push ahead early, helping craft an efficient start which sent Iowa to an early lead that cold-shooting Rutgers couldn’t catch.

"Even when Megan goes 1-for-7, we know she’ll come around and eventually get her million points," Stewart said. "We keep working and she comes around and it’s all good for team."

Stewart, who scored four points in Iowa’s 72-66 win over the Scarlet Knights in January, matched that total in the first three minutes as part of a 14-point effort Saturday.

She scored Iowa’s first two baskets, preceding a pair of 3-point field goals by Meyer that came as part of a 5-for-6 start from the field which led the Hawkeyes to a 16-4 lead just over seven minutes into the game.

"We showed that we’re a strong team," said Meyer, who finished with 13 points. "We needed to get off to a good start because Rutgers is a good team and we knew they’d fight us until the end. We just had to keep our composure and keep working."

Rutgers (22-9) rallied, pulling within 16-13 on a 3-pointer by Charise Wilson in the final seconds of the opening quarter.

Gustafson answered with her first points of the game and Iowa outscored Rutgers 14-3 over the next seven minutes on its way to a 37-23 lead at the half.

The Scarlet Knights struggled not only with their own 29-percent shooting in the first two quarters, but also with the 23-15 advantage Iowa built on the boards that included seven offensive rebounds and a 10-0 edge in second-chance points.

"Iowa played like a two seed tonight. They came out, they punched us in the face from the beginning," said Tim Eatman, Rutgers’ acting head coach as C. Vivian Stringer takes medical leave. "… We kept fighting, didn’t get knocked out. We felt like if there would have been another five minutes, we would have been in good shape."

Arella Guirantes led Rutgers with 16 points, including 10 that came in the second half as the Scarlet Knights rallied.

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