Megan Gustafson was everything Megan Gustafson is expected to be.
Mercer was so much more.
Second-seeded Iowa eventually prevailed, 66-61, behind 30 points and 16 rebounds from Gustafson, the espnW National Player of the Year. But the Bears played toe-to-toe with the Hawkeyes, nearly becoming the first No. 15 seed to upset a No. 2 since the women's NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams.
Gustafson had a record-setting day. Her 13 consecutive field goals without a miss passed the previous women's NCAA tournament record of 11 -- shared by Mississippi State's Teaira McCowan (2018) and St. Joseph's Terry Carmichael (1985). Gustafson finished 14-of-16 from the field (87.5 percent), matching Stanford's Brooke Smith in 2006 for the highest single-game field goal percentage across the past 20 NCAA tournaments (minimum 15 attempts).
The 6-foot-3 senior, who won the first NCAA tournament game of her career, also set the Big Ten single-season marks for points (927) and rebounds (440). Gustafson has an NCAA Division I-leading 13 30-point games this season.
Despite all the production, Gustafson's biggest play of the game might have come with 17 seconds left -- and didn't involve any scoring. With Iowa up 64-61, senior point guard Tania Davis missed her second straight free throw. Gustafson got one hand on the rebound, knocking it loose and forcing a tie-up. The possession arrow favored the Hawkeyes, and Kathleen Doyle iced the game with two free throws.
Mercer led 59-57 after Keke Calloway's 3-pointer beat the shot clock with 4:22 remaining. But then Hannah Stewart, Iowa's other senior post player, also came up huge, scoring the Hawkeyes' final three field goals. Calloway finished with a team-high 21 points.
How was Mercer able to put Iowa on the ropes? The Hawkeyes had 24 turnovers, and despite shooting 54.9 percent, they could never pull away. Mercer collected 17 steals, turning many into easy baskets.
And as strange as it sounds, Iowa also didn't get the ball to Gustafson enough. Mercer was at its best in the third quarter -- when it outscored the Hawkeyes 24-15 -- and the early part of the fourth. At the midway point of the final period, Gustafson had taken just three shots in the second half.
With 5:42 left in the game, Gustafson scored the first of three consecutive baskets, including a three-point play that -- go figure -- came off an offensive rebound off her first miss of the game.