By Michael Marot, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Megan Gustafson scored 26 points in the first half and finished with 45 on Sunday to lead No. 10 Iowa past No. 8 Maryland 90-76 for its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2001.
It’s the longest gap between conference crowns since the tourney became an annual event in 1995. The Hawkeyes (26-6) also claimed the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid with a victory over the Big Ten’s regular-season champion.
Gustafson’s point total was the second-most in tourney history, trailing only her 48-point performance in a quarterfinal loss to Minnesota last year.
Kaila Charles scored a career-high 36 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Terrapins (28-4), who lost for just the second time in 14 games — both to Iowa and this time largely because of Gustafson’s incredible start.
The two-time conference player of the year, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, went 10 of 14 from the field and drew seven fouls in the first half. As a result, Iowa never trailed after taking a 17-7 lead.
Instead, the Hawkeyes extended the margin to 33-19 early in the second quarter, still led 51-43 at the half and only had to fend off one serious charge in the second half, when they missed seven straight shots to open the third quarter.
Maryland took advantage of the drought by scoring eight straight to tie the score at 53.
But Gustafson broke the tie, and then scored eight points during a 12-4 quarter-closing run that gave Iowa a 69-60 lead.
Tania Davis made a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter and Maryland never got within single digits again.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes have won five straight and 10 of 11. And while Gustafson’s dominance inside this weekend should be a major concern for whomever Iowa plays in the NCAA Tournament, the Hawkeyes also demonstrated they can use her presence to free up teammates. It could be a wicked postseason combination.
Maryland: For the second straight year, the Terrapins left Indy empty-handed, but they still could be a handful in the NCAA tourney. They showed toughness to battle back and tie the game after Gustafson’s scorching start.
Iowa: Gustafson also had 10 rebounds to extend her own conference record for career double-doubles to 85 and her single-season school record to 31. She finished 17 of 24 from the field and 11 of 14 at the free-throw line. … Davis added 14 points while Kathleen Doyle had 13. … Makenzie Meyer and Alexis Sevillian each had five assists.
Maryland: Owens fouled out late in the third quarter. Jones and Austin both fouled out in the fourth. … Blair Watson scored eight points and was the only Terps player other than Charles with more than two baskets. … Maryland’s only losses in Big Ten tourney play have come in the last two title games.
The Hawkeyes had two injury scares.
First, Stewart left briefly in the first half when Austin rolled into her legs in front of the Iowa bench. She walked to the end of the court, where she composed herself before returning to the game.
Two minutes later, Davis stayed down after appearing to get hit in the face as Charles was driving to the basket. Davis also returned and finished the game.
Iowa: Must wait until next week to find out its NCAA Tournament destination.
Maryland: Will spend the next week fixing what went wrong before focusing on the NCAA Tournament.
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