Women to Play in WNIT

March 13, 2005

The Iowa women’s basketball team had mixed reactions Sunday to the news that its season would be extended in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament instead of making a return appearance to the NCAA Tournament.

“I still believe that we deserve to be in,” Head Coach Lisa Bluder said after the news. “I think if you go back and look at it we overachieved a bit early, and that makes it even harder to accept that we’re not in.”

On an espn.com online chat Sunday evening, NCAA selection committee chairperson Lynn Parkes discussed the decision processs in choosing Oklahoma over Iowa. Both teams were in the mid-40s in the RPI and the Hawkeyes defeated the Sooners 54-47 on Nov. 27 in the Bahamas.

“Both Iowa and Oklahoma are good basketball teams,” commented Parkes. “In the case of Oklahoma, they have two wins in the Top 25. Iowa has none. They were really very equal coming down the stretch and they both played in very tough conferences. So, in this case, the separation for the committee was as simple as their Top 25 wins.”

Iowa (20-9) started the year 13-0 and was the only undefeated team in the country starting the year until Penn State dealt the Hawkeyes a 77-71 loss inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 6.

That loss was the first in a three-game skid and the Hawkeyes went on to record an 8-8 Big Ten Conference record.

Iowa came back from losses against then-No. 2 Ohio State and No. 9 Michigan State in mid February to post a four-game winning streak until losing to the Nittany Lions, 68-66, in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

“You just feel like you had a great opportunity, and you’re not in,” Bluder said. “It’s hard to take.”

Bluder and junior guard Crystal Smith pinpointed the road loss to then-No. 23 Purdue on Jan. 23 and the home loss to unranked Wisconsin on Feb. 6 as the defining moments in the season. Bluder also said the last loss to Penn State in the tournament was key.

“Those three games stand out for me,” Bluder said. “I think it would take one more win either in the tournament or in the conference. You can understand taking Purdue. They beat us in record and in head-to-head competition. That seems pretty natural now.”

“It’s disappointing and unfortunate, but if we’re going to play in the NIT then we’re going to shoot to win it.”
Junior guard Crystal Smith

The coach also said that when Purdue made the tournament, the fifth of 11 Big Ten schools to make the NCAA, she knew that Iowa’s chances were not very good.

“I thought it was bad when we saw Purdue go up there, and all the 10 and 11 seeds go up there without your name,” she said. “With each one that showed, you start to realize that you’re chances are getting slimmer and slimmer.”

The initial shock of the news has been rough for the players to take, according to Smith.

“Going 13-0, you’re not expecting the season to end up like this,” Smith said. “It’s disappointing and unfortunate, but if we’re going to play in the NIT then we’re going to shoot to win it.”

The Hawkeyes have a 2-1 record in WNIT play, having made their only appearance just two years ago. In three games in Iowa City, Iowa defeated Saint Louis, 93-64, and Marquette, 76-73, before falling to Creighton, 70-64, in the quarterfinals.

Bluder said she’s confident that Carver will play host to more WNIT games this year.

“I think we’ll get a lot of games at home,” the coach said. “We have great fans and we’ve had great support.”

Iowa’s first-round opponent and event information will be available later on Sunday night.

Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com