Win or go home for Iowa women's basketball in Big Ten Tournament

BY MATT CABEL | MARCH 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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March is upon us. 

And the madness will begin for the Iowa women’s basketball team this afternoon in the Big Ten Tournament. Despite winning 23 games during the regular season, despite having to play the Illinois for the third time this season, the team knows that the postseason brings a clean slate and that a target rests on their backs as they head to Bankers Life Field House. 

“Nothing else matters now,” Hawk guard Sam Logic said. “Your record in conference doesn’t matter anymore, your nonconference record doesn’t matter anymore, it’s 0-0.” 

The postseason is a season of its own. Iowa could play as few as two more games or more than five. The fate of the season is hanging by a thread.

“You’re starting fresh — we’re going to get everyone’s best shot now, and we’re going to give everyone ours,” the junior guard said. 

Head coach Lisa Bluder isn’t letting the players look past their first-round opponent — the Fighting Illini.

In the first matchup between the teams, Iowa slugged out a 69-55 win in the friendly confines of Carver-Hawkeye. On Sunday, it was a different story, to the tune of 81-56 beating on the road that sent the team into the postseason on a three-game win streak.

“Even though we swept Illinois during the year, it means nothing anymore,” Bluder said. “But I hope it gives us a little confidence going into the tournament. But everyone’s 0-0; we have to start all over again.” 

The Hawkeyes avoided their major foes in the bracket, with Purdue waiting as a potential opponent in the second round and Penn State a likely third-round matchup should both teams advance that far. The Hawkeyes lucked out; they avoid playing Nebraska — which they have not beaten since the Huskers joined the conference in 2010 — and Michigan State, which gave Iowa its worst loss of the season in January, until the championship game. 

“We just faced Illinois — it is an advantage for us? No. Is it an advantage for them? No. It’s a wash,” Bluder said. “… But at this time of year, you throw a lot of that stuff out, and you just go out and play. You’re playing on pure guts, and that you want to play, that you want to be out there and compete.”

The bracket may be favorable, but Bluder is again not letting her team look too much ahead, and she plans on taking each game one at a time. The 14th-year Hawkeye coach said that her biggest concern for her team is looking past the Fighting Illini and only focusing on Purdue.

“If we don’t beat Illinois, there is no Purdue,” Bluder said. 

But that doesn’t mean the team isn’t preparing for what it really wants: a championship, which would mean playing — and winning — four games in four days. 

“We’re playing to cut down the net now,” Bluder said. “We’re playing for a ring, we’re playing for an automatic tournament selection.” 

No team in Big Ten women’s basketball history has ever won four games in a row to win the tournament. The highest seeds have taken the crown each year since the tournament began in 1995. 

“Four games in four days is potentially a pretty tough thing,” freshman Ally Disterhoft said. “But I think we’re just going to approach it like any other game; we’re not going to look too much in any of those games. We’re going to take it day by day.”

With this goal in mind, the team will travel to Indianapolis with heads full of confidence after a regular season with the second-most wins in Bluder’s history as the head coach at Iowa, and its win streak. They’ll need it, too, if they truly want to cut down the nets on March 9. 

“The confidence is high right now on this team,” said Iowa’s lone senior, Theairra Taylor. “Three-game winning streak, that’s awesome. We’ve started believing in each other, we know how we play now, we’re getting a good feel for it. It’s a good time to start the tournament now — we’re peaking.”

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