By Steve Batterson
IOWA CITY – Making the first start of her college career Friday night, Iowa senior Hannah Stewart discovered something.
“When you have an all-American on your team, it’s nice for a lot of reasons,’’ Stewart said after scoring a career-high 19 points to help lead the 13th-ranked Hawkeyes to a season-opening 90-77 victory over Oral Roberts at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
As the Golden Eagles attempted to double-team Megan Gustasfson, Stewart and Alexis Sevillian became the beneficiaries of plenty of open looks and both made the most of their opportunities.
Stewart scored 10 of her points in the first two quarters and Sevillian collected 11 of her 18 in the first half as well as Iowa jumped out to a 34-9 lead.
Gustafson did her part as well, opening the season with a 22-point, 17-rebound performance that included six assists and four blocks.
“That’s a testament to the kind of player Megan is,’’ Stewart said. “Knowing she’s going to be doubled and she knows that those are assists so she gets the ball to her teammates. She truly believes that and she truly doesn’t score every basket for herself, she scores for Iowa.’’
Gustafson’s willingness to distribute the ball led the Hawkeyes to a fluid start.
Iowa needed fewer than four minutes to open a double-digit lead it never relinquished, building a 49-23 halftime lead while knocking down 18 of the 31 shots its took during the first two quarters.
“Offensively, defensively, the first two quarters we did some really good things,’’ Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said. “The second half, we didn’t bring the same energy we had at the start.’’
Oral Roberts, which led The Summit League in 3-point shooting last season, had something to do with that.
The Golden Eagles knocked down 12 of the 18 shots it took from behind the arc in the final two quarters, forcing Bluder to continue to mix and match starters and reserves in the Iowa lineup over the final 20 minutes.
“After giving up four threes in the first half, giving up 12 in the second something that tells me we have some work to do,’’ Bluder said. “They shoot it well, but we didn’t defend it well.’’
The Hawkeyes watched a lead that grew as large as 28 points in the second quarter dwindle to 11 points late in the fourth quarter, but a Stewart completed a three-point play with a free throw with 26 seconds remaining to preserve the win.
Makenzie Meyer added 13 points and Tania Davis, competing in her first game since suffering a torn ACL last season, finished with nine in her return to action.
“It felt great to put the uniform on again and be back out there,’’ Davis said. “It’s a good start for us.’’