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Women's hoops with plenty at stake this week

BY MATT COZZI | FEBRUARY 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa women's basketball team was in a rut two weeks ago.

The Hawkeyes had a 5-5 record in conference. Their NCAA Tournament prospects didn't look positive. Leading scorer Jaime Printy had just torn her ACL in an overtime win at Wisconsin, which made the bus trip home feel more like a season-ending loss than a momentum-building victory.

But now, the season has turned upside down.

Iowa has won six in a row and is in solid position to go dancing. Several players have stepped up to fill the void left by Printy, and the team is arguably playing its best basketball of the year.

But there's still a lot at stake this week for the Hawkeyes (17-10, 9-5 Big Ten), who play at Northwestern tonight and host Michigan on Feb. 26.

Because of a current four-way tie for third place in the conference, head coach Lisa Bluder's squad can finish as high as third and as low as seventh in the standings. A third- or fourth-place finish would result in a first-round bye in next week's Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

"There's a lot of pressure over these last two games," junior center Morgan Johnson said. "Everything we worked for, all the comebacks we've made — it all comes down to these last two [games]."

Iowa has an RPI of 41 going into tonight's game against the Wildcats and is slotted as an 8-seed for the NCAA Tournament, according to ESPN's most recent prediction.

Analyst Charlie Creme, who has been ESPN.com's women's college basketball bracketologist for 10 years, said Iowa is "in pretty good shape" for its fifth-straight tournament appearance with at least three games remaining.

"Iowa is fairly safe, unless it really bottoms out and goes 0-3," Creme told The Daily Iowan. "And even then — while the record wouldn't be very impressive — it would still be on the bubble."

The Hawkeyes have opened many eyes since Printy has been out; the team's shooting percentage has been a stable 43.3 percent, so Iowa has proven it can win without its star shooting guard. That poses a threat to fellow Big Ten teams, but also stands out to the NCAA selection committee.

"[Iowa] can still win without Printy, which is huge. Before she got hurt, I had Iowa on the outside, but now they've just gotten hot — and it's a fairly remarkable story that they did," Creme said. "It's put them in a little more solidly. They've jumped a lot of teams because of their streak … not many teams have won six-straight."

Freshman guard Sam Logic said she was aware of the circumstances surrounding the team two weeks ago. She said that, at the time, she and her teammates wouldn't have dreamed of obtaining a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

But the current win streak has made them firm believers now.

Northwestern (14-13, 4-10) and Michigan (19-8, 8-6) are both beatable opponents, and Iowa has already defeated each team earlier this season.

"It's awesome," Logic said about the six-straight wins. "Everything is finally clicking, and we've been so close all season. There have been games where easily our Big Ten record could be better than it is, but you have to bounce back from that. We're putting everything together."

Follow DI women's basketball reporter Matt Cozzi on Twitter.


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