IOWA CITY – It would have been easy for Tania Davis to walk away.
Her sophomore and junior seasons on the Iowa women’s basketball team were ended prematurely by torn anterior cruciate ligaments.
Long, often lonely rehabilitation work followed.
Nobody would have blamed her from opting out of her final season as a Hawkeye, taking a medical hardship scholarship, earning her degree and getting on with life.
That’s not Davis.
That’s not what the 5-foot-3 guard from Flint, Michigan is all about.
Davis is preparing to help lead the eighth-ranked Hawkeyes into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015, facing 10th-ranked North Carolina State in a 10:30 a.m. game Saturday at Greensboro, N.C.
“This is why I came back, to be a part of games like this and part of a team that is chasing the biggest of goals,’’ Davis said. “I knew what this team was capable of, and all season I’ve tried to do everything I could to be a part of it.’’
One of the goals Davis wrote down prior to the start of the Hawkeyes’ 28-6 season was to be on the court in a playing role for Senior Day.
That may seem like a modest objective, but after watching the final home game of the year on the bench in street clothes the past two seasons, it was reality.
“I had no idea how my body was going to hold up this year, if I would be able to take the wear and tear of the season, but I did know I was going to do everything in my power to make it happen,’’ Davis said.
Davis was willing to fight for that opportunity.
That’s nothing new.
Davis said she grew up “in the tough part of town’’ in Flint, but basketball provided her with something to focus on.
The basketball hoop in the driveway at her home was behind a closed gate. A few friends were allowed to join Davis in pick-up games, but only a tight inner circle of Davis’ best friends were allowed to participate.
“If my mom didn’t know you, you weren’t getting in and I was good with that,’’ Davis said. “It kept me away from the bad influences that were out there. Basketball was my safe haven, it really was.’’
Davis thrived on the court, earning Miss Basketball honors in Michigan during her senior year at Goodrich High School in Flint where she was a teammate of current Iowa sophomore Alexis Sevillian and working her way toward a top-50 national ranking.
“I fell in love with this place when I came out to Iowa on my recruiting trip. I wasn’t sure until I got here, but it was such a comfortable place for me and a place where I knew the basketball program could do big things,’’ Davis said. “What we’re doing now, winning Big Ten tournaments and going on a run in the NCAA tourney, that’s why I’m here.’’
Davis’ upbringing proved beneficial as she dealt with what fate sent her way during her collegiate career.
Things started off well. She earned a spot on the Big Ten all-freshman team after starting 16 games, averaging 8.1 points and leading the Hawkeyes in assists.
Davis returned to the lineup at the start of her sophomore season and averaged 10.9 points in 23 games before tearing the ACL in her right knee during a game at Michigan.
She returned to the court a year ago, but in the 12th game of her junior season she tore the ACL in her left knee as she was fouled while driving for a lay-up at Northern Iowa.
“The second one was toughest one. You wonder ‘Why me? Why did this happen again?’ And then you keep grinding your way back,’’ Davis said. “Your teammates, coaches and family, they’re there for support, but it’s a tough road back.’’
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder understands that.
“Nobody would have blamed her from walking away from the game. We wouldn’t have batted an eye,’’ Bluder said. “It’s tough enough to deal with one ACL, but two in two years. It takes a special player to come back from that.’’
Davis did it for herself and for her teammates.
Her drive was to do what she is doing to today, preparing with the Hawkeyes for the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance in four years with hopes of getting the chance to be part of Iowa’s first team to reach the Elite Eight since the program’s only Final Four appearance in 1993.
“I wasn’t ready to walk away. There were days when that seemed like a good idea, but I had to keep fighting,’’ Davis said. “I wasn’t going to give it up.’’
The tenacity in the way she approached her rehabilitation is matched by the way she approaches the game.
Davis earned honorable mention all-Big Ten recognition this season before delivering critical 3-point baskets during the fourth quarter of Iowa’s Big Ten tourney wins in the semifinals and finals.
She repeated that feat again to open the fourth quarter Sunday and grow the Hawkeyes’ lead in its NCAA second-round win over Missouri.
“That’s Tania. She always comes through when we need her most,’’ Iowa center Megan Gustafson said. “She leads us in so many ways.’’
Davis currently averages 10.4 points and a team-leading 39.1-percent shooting touch from 3-point range for Iowa.
“She’s a different style of player now because of the ACL tears,’’ Bluder said. “She’s not quite as fast, doesn’t attack the rim the way she used to, but she still has an unbelievable ability to stay calm when things are going amuck and she still has quick hands. She helps us in so many ways.’’
Davis said her motivation remains simple.