Commentary: Iowa played its tournament matchup in unfriendly confines

BY JON FRANK | MARCH 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Iowa got a raw deal.

The Hawkeyes entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 6 seed, and yet they played No. 11 seed Gonzaga at the McCarthey Athletics Center on March 19 … Gonzaga’s home court.

Tournament games are usually played on neutral sites, but because of circumstances outside their control, the Hawkeyes were forced to travel 1,500 miles to compete in a sold-out arena filled with frenetic Zag fans.

They were at a disadvantage before they even stepped on to the hardwood.

Every fast-break point the Bulldogs scored — 17 by the game’s conclusion — the Gonzaga faithful shook the arena’s foundation with boisterous applause. The few quiet spells came only during Iowa runs. But they didn’t last long.

The contest was so back and forth that it gave fans plenty to cheer about.

Despite the tenacious crowd, the Hawkeyes kept up with the Bulldogs’ offensive attack and held several leads throughout the 92-86 loss.

“Hopefully, one of these years we’re going to get a neutral site,” said head coach Lisa Bluder, who has led Iowa to four-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

Aside from the raucous crowd, the Hawkeyes faced other obstacles. For starters, they were pitted against an impressive Gonzaga squad that had only lost four games all season, two of which were to ranked teams, Stanford and Notre Dame — who received No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively.

The selection committee showed little love for the Zags. Maybe because of their weak conference schedule, though they went undefeated in conference play. Maybe because their résumé was void of any signature victories.

Regardless, the Bulldogs deserved a higher seed. They had the most prolific offense in college and arguably the best point guard in the NCAA in Courtney Vandersloot.

In fact, many analysts predicted the “upset” before Saturday’s tip-off.

Swish Appeal — a women’s basketball commentary website — predicted a victory for the Zags. ESPN.com’s first-day tournament wrap-up, which featured an Iowa-Gonzaga recap, read “Predictably Upsetting.”

Not many people outside the coaching staff and the pep band that traveled alongside the Hawkeyes believed they had a shot at beating the No. 11 seed on their home floor. And understandably so.

The Bulldogs completely obliterated every West Coast Conference opponent they played. Their average margin of victory was 24.6 points going into the game with the Hawkeyes. They averaged 86.2 points per game. And even Iowa — a team that hails from a traditionally good defensive conference — was unable to slow down the scorching offensive attack.

The Hawkeyes shouldn’t hang their heads, though. They played a great game in a hostile environment, against a team that had no business being a No. 11 seed.

Of course it’s disappointing. The No. 6 seed was the highest they’ve had in the last four years. Senior guard Kachine Alexander — one of the best players to ever play for Iowa — will be stuck thinking about what could have been for years to come.

But the sooner they put this one behind them, the better. They did everything in their power to pull out a victory; it just wasn’t in the cards.

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