Iowa opens up Big Ten tournament against Ohio State

BY MATT COZZI | MARCH 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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Why stop now?

That’s the mentality the Iowa women’s basketball team has emulated heading into the Big Ten Tournament.

Head coach Lisa Bluder’s squad enters Indianapolis’ Conseco Field House on a five-game winning streak, in which the Hawkeyes have averaged 77 points per contest. Defensively, they have yielded only 64 points per game during that same span.

While Iowa (22-7, 10-6) received a first-round bye in the tournament, the Hawkeyes tied for third place with three other teams — Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. They are seeded fourth, behind Michigan, because they were defeated by the Wolverines in their only regular-season meeting.

The draw to lead off Iowa’s Big Ten tourney title hopes isn’t the greatest. A second-round matchup with fifth-seeded Ohio State — which will tip off at approximately 7:30 p.m. CST today on the Big Ten Network — is hardly a reward for the squad’s third-place finish.

Ohio State defeated Iowa in last year’s Big Ten Tournament championship game, and the two squads split this year’s regular-season series. The Buckeyes (19-9, 10-6) begin postseason play with a streak of their own, winning the previous six games. And they still boast two of the league’s best players — senior center Jantel Lavender and junior point guard Samantha Prahalis.

“I think [the Buckeyes are] playing a lot better basketball than they were earlier in the season,” Iowa sophomore Jaime Printy said. “They’ve had some good wins since we played them, so they’re playing well. But then you look at us, and we’ve been playing just as good. I think it will be a really fun game.”

Toward the end of the season, the Hawkeyes have distributed the ball much more effectively than when the Big Ten season began in late December. Iowa has also become a very dangerous second-half team, piling up unreachable margins against Northwestern, Minnesota, and Illinois.

In those contests, Iowa either was trailing or had a slim lead at halftime, but shot at least 48.1 percent from the field in the second half to pull out a victory.

“We’re all playing together so well right now,” Printy said. “Different people step up each night. We’re hard to guard right now.”

Looking past Ohio State — which Bluder vehemently tried to avoid at her weekly press conference on Tuesday — doesn’t bring about any easier matchups.

When asked who else in the tournament is bound to give Iowa a tough matchup, Bluder simply said, “Anybody that we play.”

That mentality is indicative of how competitive the Big Ten has been this season, and that’s not going to change this weekend. Ohio State’s RPI is the ninth-best in the country, while Michigan State’s is 15th, and Iowa’s ranks 19th.

“You have the three highest RPIs on one side of the bracket, which is tough,” Bluder said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Despite a shaky start to the conference season — Iowa lost its first two games — the Hawkeyes have battled back. With 22 wins, they appear a safe bet to receive an NCAA Tournament berth, but they could earn a better seeding in the Big Dance with a couple wins in the Big Ten tourney.

Associate head coach Jan Jensen said the team has embraced the challenge of playing Ohio State immediately and said the matchup will be fun.

“This is what March Madness is all about,” she said. “We’re going into the tournament wanting to make that memory. We want to cut down the nets. Those opportunities are few and far between. Anytime you put yourself in that position, you just have to savor it. It’s going to be a blast.”

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