Commentary: Bluder’s Bunch should cherish NCAA experience

BY EVELYN LAU | MARCH 24, 2010 7:30 AM

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PALO ALTO, Calif. — Who could blame the Hawkeyes for being frustrated?

As the No. 8 seed in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Iowa women’s basketball team had the daunting task of trying to do what no other team had done in 45 tries — defeating No. 1 seed and second-ranked Stanford at home.

It wasn’t a lack of effort, talent, or heart that did Iowa in.

The Hawkeyes tried to keep up with the Cardinal, but the offensive explosion they displayed proved why they’re the No. 2 team in the country.

Shooting 68.8 percent from the field and hitting 9-of-12 from the 3-point line (including 9-of-9 to start the game) to build a 61-34 lead at halftime, there wasn’t much Iowa could do.

“They were feeling it tonight,” junior Kachine Alexander said on Monday. “Stuff like that happens. You kind of just have to make adjustments and we weren’t able to do that tonight.”

While the loss was disappointing, it wasn’t necessarily unexpected.

The only team to lead UConn at halftime, Stanford played one of its best all-around games.

Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, it was against them.

But head coach Lisa Bluder and the players should take solace in knowing Iowa received an opportunity of a lifetime. After starting the Big Ten season 1-6 and losing three players to injuries, the team put together a remarkable stretch to turn the season around.

Iowa ended as the Big Ten runner-up (losing by two points) and made it to the second-round of the Big Dance for the first time since 2002.

Back in January, that would have seemed like a far-fetched fantasy.

And on the grandest stage, junior Kachine Alexander continued her All-American campaign bid with 27 points and six rebounds against the stifling Cardinal defense.

Impressed? So were the Stanford faithful, who gave her a standing ovation as she walked toward the bench and out of the game in the final minute.

The plane ride back to Iowa City was quiet, but it wasn’t as glum as one might expect.

Bluder and the players each received a cheerful applause from the Iowa band and cheerleaders as they boarded their flight one by one.

So this wasn’t the way they wanted it to end. But then again, they weren’t even supposed to be here to begin with.

Not with the way the team started the season. Not with the injuries and illnesses. Not with two freshmen, two sophomores, and a junior composing the lineup.

But they did.

While the Hawkeyes may have been frustrated, maybe in a couple of years they’ll be a little thankful, too. If the Hawkeyes plan on contending for a national championship, they need to experience a team like Stanford.

Too big, too fast, too good. At least right now.

Losing by 31 points is never easy for any team, but Alexander hinted at the possibility of an encore performance.

“[Stanford is] a great team, but you can’t really hang your head too low because we don’t really graduate anybody,” Alexander said. “We add people next year. So, there’s only more to look forward to.”

Isn’t that all we can ask for?

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