Commentary: Women’s basketball team can still make a push in NCAAs

BY MATT COZZI | MARCH 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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INDIANAPOLIS — When the final buzzer sounded in Conseco Field House on March 4, feelings lingered through many people’s minds.

For Iowa, it was devastation. One walk through the locker room, and you would have thought someone had died. Players on the edge of their chairs, heads down, blank looks on their faces.

For the onlookers, it was feelings of doubts.

That night, an Iowa loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals initiated those notions regarding this 2010-11 Hawkeye team.

Maybe this really wasn’t their year.

Maybe they were never a legitimate Big Ten contender to begin with. The 22-8 overall record (10-6 in conference) was a fluke.

Good luck winning more than one game in the NCAA Tournament.

But that isn’t the case. The loss doesn’t change the makeup of the team.

Despite the early exit — Ohio State went on to win another Big Ten Tournament championship — Iowa is still a lock for an NCAA Tournament berth. Head coach Lisa Bluder’s squad did enough in the regular season to not only make the Big Dance, it will most likely avoid the dreaded 8th or 9th-seed range.

As of Sunday night, ESPN.com’s Charlie Creme had Iowa as a 6th seed. In that scenario, the Hawkeyes would play an 11th seed and then either play the 3rd or 14th seed in the second round if they win. Two tourney wins for Iowa isn’t unreasonable.

Sure, Bluder and Company could have earned a higher seed by going deep in the Big Ten tourney, but their position on a national level has been justified.

The Hawkeyes played one of the most competitive nonconference slates in all of women’s basketball. Overall, Iowa’s schedule is rated as the 26th-toughest in the nation, third in the Big Ten.

Plus, Iowa still has a high RPI despite the loss. As of Sunday night, the Hawkeyes are ranked 17th in the nation by RealTimeRPI and have six wins over top-50 RPI teams, including two against Top-25 teams. Six of Iowa’s eight losses are to teams with an RPI of 50 or better.

Translation? The Hawkeyes haven’t played any cupcakes this year. That will be beneficial when they embark on their NCAA Tournament journey.

Additionally, this Hawkeye roster might be one of the most talented in recent history. Led by Jaime Printy and Kachine Alexander, the team has four players averaging double figures.

Junior point guard Kamille Wahlin has run the offense well all season, and sophomore center Morgan Johnson has tallied 72 blocks. Kelly Krei established herself at the forward position this year, averaging 9.1 points per game.

A quartet of reserves — Hannah Draxten, Kelsey Cermak, Kalli Hansen, and Trisha Nesbitt — have all provided a boost off the bench at various points throughout the year, especially during conference play.

After the loss to Ohio State, Bluder explained what her team needs to do between now and the Big Dance. The NCAA Tournament selection is March 14, and first-round games begin on March 19.

“We have [about] two weeks of practice to get ready for the NCAA Tournament,” the 11-year Iowa coach said. “Our goal is just to work hard. We’ll be able to have some time to really work and get ready for that.”

Don’t write off Iowa just yet. There is still at least one game left to play. Knowing the Hawkeyes, they will make some noise in the Big Dance.

Just wait for it.

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