The Mercer Bears women’s basketball entered the 2019 NCAA Tournament as one of the four No. 15 seeds, squaring off with the No. 2 seed Iowa Hawkeyes in the Greensboro region.
Iowa, led by NCAAw Player of the Year Megan Gustagson, was dominant early on, taking an early 14-2 lead over the Bears. However, Mercer senior Amanda Thompson was not going to let her team go down without a fight, leading the Bears to a 10-2 run to finish the quarter down just 16-12.
The second quarter was back-and-forth, but the Hawkeyes hit a 3-pointer as time expired to take a 35-27 lead into the halftime locker room.
While the first two quarters belonged to the Hawkeyes, it was the Bears who took the third. After trailing by eight at halftime, Mercer outscored Iowa 24-15 in the third quarter to enter the final 10 minutes ahead by one.
In NCAA women’s basketball tournament history, a No. 15 seed has never upset a No. 2 seed. If Mercer was able to hold on, not only would they live to play another game — they would make their mark in basketball history.
The fourth quarter started off with both teams trading baskets. However, it was Iowa’s Gustafson who just couldn’t miss down the stretch. The Bears had their chances in the end, but Gustafson proved to just be too much.
When the final buzzer rang, it was the Hawkeyes in control of a 66-61 victory.
The Bears finish the 2018-2019 season with a 25-8 overall record, a SoCon regular season crown, as well as a SoCon Tournament championship.
Next year’s Mercer squad is bound to look quite different. They lose five seniors to graduation this year, including starters KeKe Calloway, Amanda Thompson, Rachel Selph and Linnea Rosendall, as well as key reserve Ally Welch.
These past four seasons have been quite successful for Mercer. After losing so much talent to graduation, the question shifts to sustainability.
If there’s one thing I know for sure after covering this team — don’t doubt Mercer Head Coach Susie Gardner. She’s one heck of a coach, and I’m sure she will have the Bears competing year-in and year-out for many seasons to come.