NCAA Central: Hawkeyes will rely on home court

March 21, 2009

by David Meyer

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa women’s basketball seniors have been to the NCAA tournament three of their four years on campus, but they are still looking for a first-round victory. When the Hawkeyes face off against No. 9-seed Georgia Tech on Sunday, March 22, they will be aided by the uncommon prospect of playing on their home court.

“It’s very exciting to sleep in our own beds and have the opportunity to play in the comfort of our own arena,” said UI head coach Lisa Bluder at an NCAA media conference Saturday.

Bluder has been to the “Big Dance” 10 times in her coaching career, but her program has never before been a host.

“We’re thrilled at the opportunity to host,” said Bluder, who is looking for her third NCAA Tournament win as coach of the Hawkeyes (and fourth overall).

“More than anything, you just want to win so badly for your fans, and for the people like the administrators that have put so much work into hosting something like this,” said Bluder.

The UI last hosted an NCAA tournament in 1998, beating Massachusetts 77-59 in the first round before coming up short against Kansas, 62-58. Iowa also hosted in 1996, winning two games and advancing to the Sweet 16.

“We have a bunch of experts in knowing how to put on an NCAA event here at Iowa. I think it will be a first-class event,” said Bluder.

While home court advantage is always significant, Iowa plays particularly well at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeye women have won 20 of their last 21 at home, dating back to last season. They managed a 13-1 home record during the 2008-09 regular season, suffering their only home loss to Purdue, 69-60, on Dec. 28.

Though they aren’t treating their date with the Yellow Jackets as just another game, the Iowa seniors recognize the benefits of playing on the court they know so well.

“We’ve been able to practice here all week. We don’t have to travel; we get to stay in our own beds. I think it could be a huge advantage,” said senior forward Wendy Ausdemore.

In addition to their impressive home record, Iowa’s superior home play can be seen in the statistics. The Hawkeyes average 12.3 more points at home versus away games. They shoot field goals and free throws 5.1-percent and 6.6-percent higher at home, respectively. They average 3.0 more rebounds, 4.8 more assists, and 2.0 fewer turnovers per game at home than on the road.

Iowa senior center Megan Skouby attributes the difference to the home crowd energy players feed off of.

“Playing at home you get your home fans, you get a lot of people cheering for you, and you get that momentum,” said Skouby.

Despite the advantage of playing in familiar confines, Iowa’s game was allotted an approximate 8:30 p.m. on Sunday time slot, which isn’t optimal for family attendance. With spring break coming to a close, parents will want their kids in bed at a decent time before school resumes Monday morning. A parent of three young children herself, Bluder encouraged families to turn out, noting the rarity of the occasion.

“It really is an opportunity that we don’t get very often, to host this caliber of event, so I hope that parents are going to make an exception for this particular game on Sunday night,” said Bluder.

Ausdemore offered a humorous, yet practical solution to the late tip off.

“We just hope that the fans don’t let that bother them, and they can still come out. Bring all the kids too. They’ll be fine — have them take a nap in the afternoon.”

More than 4,000 tickets had been sold through Saturday, March 21. Bluder is hoping a larger number of fans attend to cheer the Hawkeyes onto their first opening round victory since 2002.

Click HERE to purchase tickets online. Tickets can also be purchased by calling 1-800 IA-HAWKS or at the UI Athletics Ticket Office in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.