As women head to Big Ten, let the madness begin

BY JEFF PAWOLA | MARCH 5, 2009 7:19 AM

The women’s Big Ten Tournament will begin today in Conseco Field House in Indianapolis, with three first-round games featuring the teams at the bottom of the bracket.

Seeds 6-11 will open up tournament play with the hope of making a run similar to that of Illinois last year. In 2008, the Fighting Illini entered the tournament as the No. 9 seed and reached the championship game before falling to third-seeded Purdue at the buzzer, 58-56.

This year’s bottom half of the bracket is composed of No. 6 Indiana taking on No. 11 Michigan, No. 7 Wisconsin battling No. 10 Northwestern, and No. 8 Penn State against No. 9 Illinois. All three games are on the Big Ten Network, beginning with the Wildcats and Badgers at 11 a.m.

“It is very difficult to [win the Big Ten Tournament],” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “To play that many games in a short amount of time is very difficult to do.”

In order for one of the lower seeds to claim the tournament title and the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, it has to win four games, a feat that has never been done in the Big Ten. Indiana in 2002 and Purdue in 1998, as the fifth seeds, are the lowest seeded teams to win the tournament.

The No. 4 Hawkeyes will play fifth-seeded Minnesota Friday night in the quarterfinals. Iowa finished in a three-way tie for second with No. 3 Purdue — which will play the winner of the Indiana/Michigan — and No. 2 Michigan State — which will play the winner of the Wisconsin/Northwestern. The top seed is Ohio State, which won its fifth-consecutive regular-season crown, 12th overall.

“It’s nice to be tied for second, but it would’ve been nice to get a higher seed, too,” Iowa senior Wendy Ausdemore said. “It’s nice to say that we’re tied for second, though.”

Iowa lost the tiebreaker to the Boilermakers and Spartans after going 0-3 against the two during the regular season — losing 69-60 on Dec. 28 and 60-49 on Jan. 8 against Purdue and 68-56 at Michigan State on Jan. 29. Last season, the Hawkeyes were co-regular-season champions with the Buckeyes but lost the tiebreaker, making Iowa the No. 2 seed. The Hawkeyes reached the semifinal round and looked to be in a good position to win the tournament after Ohio State lost to Illinois, but ended up losing to the eventual champion Boilermakers.

Playing in its home state, Purdue has often been regarded as the favorite. The Boilermakers have won the most tournament titles in the conference with seven, including the previous two, while the next closest teams are Iowa and Penn State with two each.

“I don’t mind where we’re seeded. [The Boilkermakers] believe this is their tournament. They believe this is their hometown and this is their tournament to go in there and dominate,” Bluder said. “I think that not having the possibility to see Purdue until the championship would be a good thing, so I don’t mind where we’re seeded at all.”

The semifinal games will begin on Saturday at 5 p.m. on the Big Ten Network, with the championship game set for March 8 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

“Teams are hungry,” Iowa senior Kristi Smith said. “Anything can happen in tournament play.”

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