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Hawkeyes ready for race-track pace

BY KYLE MANN | MARCH 25, 2015 5:00 AM

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The Iowa women are preparing this week for its first Sweet 16 game since 1996, when they will face second-seed Baylor on Friday. Early in the week, here’s what’s on their minds:

Dream Season

Every team in the country enters a season with goals. More often than not, the teams fail to meet them. Sometimes, however, a team not only meets those goals but achieves them the way it expects to. This season, that was the Hawkeyes.

Returning four starters and three historic seniors, Lisa Bluder had high hopes. First, she wanted to finish the season in position to earn a top-four seed in a NCAA region and then she wanted to make it to the Sweet 16.

Check, check, and then some. In addition to fulfilling both objectives, the team went 18-0 at home, finished second in the conference, and is on pace to set an Iowa record for offense for the second-consecutive year. Paired with a top-class coaching staff and camaraderie in the locker room, this season has been one to remember.

“It’s been incredible,” Bluder said. “The whole season has been one of those magical seasons where you don’t have a lot of problems. We didn’t have any injuries, we didn’t have any off-court problems, and we didn’t have any on-court problems, really. It’s been a group that you sincerely look to go to work every day with.”

So often in sports, it is trumpeted how one team’s chemistry may be superior to another’s, and it becomes a cliché. But with this veteran Iowa team, rest assured: It’s legit.

“It starts off the court; everyone is so extremely close off the court,” Melissa Dixon said. “It makes it that much more fun, makes it fun to come to practice every day and work hard because you love the people you’re working with.”

A (very) unfamilar face

When Iowa meets Baylor, it will be the first contest between the two programs. In addition to not having any on-court experience with the Bears, the Hawkeyes now have to prepare for a program they’ve never even had to scout.

On the surface, the matchup can be gauged on the surface by looking at common opponents from this season — Arkansas, Michigan State, and Iowa State.

Iowa lost to Arkansas, 77-67, on Nov. 28, 2014, a team Baylor defeated, and both teams beat Michigan State. The most insightful matchup is Iowa State, which is similar to Iowa with its ball movement and outside shooting. Iowa bested the Cyclones, 76-67, while Baylor split its in-conference series.

Baylor’s loss to the Cyclones is one that should encourage the Hawkeyes.

Run, run, and run some more

Baylor spent much of the season in the top 10, thanks largely to its potent offense. Bluder lauded the Bears for their ability to score and warned they can be very dangerous in transition. Luckily for the Hawkeyes, that could play right into their hands.

“It’s similar to how we are,” Bethany Doolittle said. “We like to get out in transition, and we like that fast-paced game. We’ll focus on stopping their transitioning and slowing down their point guard, but we have to do what we’ve been doing all year.” The teams are seventh and eight nationally in scoring offense, indicative of the pace each plays at, but Iowa has an advantage as shooters. The Hawkeyes are third in the NCAA at 39.7 percent from behind the arc, while Baylor is 72nd at 34 percent.

The game should be up and down at a torrid pace, but the Hawkeyes could pull an upset if they’re hitting shots.

Follow @KyleFMann on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa women’s basketball team.


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