Women open basketball tournament against Minnesota

BY JEFF PAWOLA | MARCH 6, 2009 7:22 AM

The women’s Big Ten Tournament got underway Thursday as the conferences lower seeds battled it. There were no real surprises — No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 6 Indiana, and No. 9 Illinois all emerged victorious.

Tonight, fourth-seeded Iowa (20-9, 13-5) will join the action when the Hawkeyes take on No. 5 Minnesota (19-10, 11-7) in the Conseco Field House in Indianapolis. Although there is no set start time due to the earlier games, Iowa is tentatively scheduled to start at 7:15 p.m., or 25 minutes following the previous game, between the Fighting Illini and top-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes.

“We’re getting ready for Minnesota. They’ve been kind of an up and down team. It’s which Minnesota team is going to show up,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “We beat them convincingly at our place; at their place, we lost a close game to them.”

Iowa won, 74-57, on Jan. 11 in Iowa City but let a victory slip away in the closing moments on Feb. 8, leaving Minneapolis with a 64-58 loss.

Since that time, Minnesota and Iowa have gone in opposite directions. The Hawkeyes have pulled off a string of six-straight wins and hold the longest active winning streak in the Big Ten; the Golden Gophers have lost four of their last six, including two losses to Illinois and Northwestern, who finished ninth and 10th. Before the six-game stretches Iowa was battling for fifth place, and Minnesota was in the hunt for conference supremacy.

As a result, the Hawkeyes are all but a lock for an NCAA Tournament bid, but the Gophers are hoping their bubble doesn’t pop. ESPN’s Bracketology currently has Iowa rated as an eighth seed and playing in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, while Minnesota is holding on as an 11th seed, one of the lowest at-large seeds to make the field of 64.

“They’re on the bubble, so if they don’t win, they’re pretty much out,” Iowa senior Kristi Smith said. “There’s a lot at stake for both teams. They obviously want to get into the tournament, and we obviously want some revenge. We’re still a little bitter about the loss up in Minnesota.”

Iowa sophomore Kachine Alexander, a Minneapolis native, laid out directly how she would feel if Iowa was the reason the Gophers fail to qualify for the tournament — amazing.

“I just think [beating Minnesota] would be great, because then it’s like we stopped them from going to the NCAAs,” she said. “I think that, hopefully, it’ll give us a better seed in the NCAA Tournament … If we do well in the Big Ten Tournament, then we’ll probably move up.

“We’re on a roll. I don’t think anybody wants to play us right now.”

Bluder has high hopes that her team can advance higher than its current projected rankings.

“I’m hoping that we’re an eight or a seven,” she said. “I think a win over Minnesota would solidify us at that seven, another win could move us to six and even to five.”

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