March 15, 2010
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Cinderella will wear a black and gold uniform to the Big Dance in Stanford, Calif., on Saturday, officially solidifying the University of Iowa as one of the biggest women’s basketball success stories in recent memory.
Once sitting with a 1-6 record in Big Ten Conference play, the Hawkeyes reeled off 11 wins in their final 14 games to finish 19-13 overall, 10-8 in the league and advance to the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season. A No. 8 seed, Iowa will play No. 9 Rutgers in the first round at Maples Pavilion beginning at 7:16 p.m. (Iowa time). Rutgers (19-14) is coached for C. Vivian Stringer, who lead the Hawkeyes from 1983-95.
Stringer might have put Iowa on the women’s basketball map, but it is current head coach Lisa Bluder who makes sure the rest of the nation continues to spell it with a capital I.
Stinger and Bluder have combined to coach the UI for 22 seasons with Bluder being in charge for the past 10 campaigns.
“Now we have an opponent, we have a date and a site,” Bluder said at a media conference Monday evening inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “Things can kick into motion. Our team is very excited and there are a lot of unique angles to this game.”
One of those unique angles is the fact Stringer took Iowa to the NCAA tournament nine times and to the Final Four in 1993. The other is the director of athletics at Stanford is Bob Bowsbly, who was AD at Iowa from 1991-2005.
Rutgers plays one of the toughest schedules in the nation and the Scarlet Knights have already battled Stanford, Tennessee and Connecticut. Iowa and Rutgers have played two common opponents: West Virginia (Iowa lost 69-66; Rutgers lost 55-51 and 56-49) and Boston College (Iowa lost 72-67; Rutgers won 59-53).
“It doesn’t matter to us who we’re playing,” Bluder said. “That’s a good thing going into the NCAA tournament that your team doesn’t worry who you’re playing, but that you’re playing together. Our team is very confident that when we have that balanced scoring that we’re a very good basketball team.”
“Wow, if you would have talked about this a month and a half or two months ago, getting an eighth seed and going to the NCAA tournament…it looked like a far-off dream,” UI director of athletics Gary Barta said. “Then to watch what our women did; I’m so proud of the way they came on, fought through adversity and here we are, we get a chance to go to the Big Dance.”
For Hawkeye junior Kachine Alexander, this is three-for-three for her in the NCAA tournament. The native of Minneapolis has never traveled to the state of California, and she doesn’t want to make this a quick trip.
“I’m not trying to go there and leave right away,” Alexander said. “We’ll prepare for Rutgers and the tactics we’ll take and things like that. We’re a pretty hot team.”
“It doesn’t matter to us who we’re playing. That’s a good thing going into the NCAA tournament that your team doesn’t worry who you’re playing, but that you’re playing together. Our team is very confident that when we have that balanced scoring that we’re a very good basketball team.”
UI head coach Lisa Bluder
Iowa has dropped its last five games in the NCAA tournament, including a 76-62 decision to Georgia Tech on March 22, 2009, in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. This will be the first postseason appearance for Jaime Printy, the Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Year. Printy leads the Hawkeyes in points (477) and free throw percentage (87.8).
“I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun, a privilege,” Printy said. “I’m ready to get going. We’re bringing a lot of confidence to California. We’ve been playing well together. Just to be there and being a part of it is almost like a dream come true. I thought it would happen eventually, but to have it actually happen is a different story.”
Said Bluder: “It would be tremendous to get a win. We wanted to get in the tournament, now we’re in it and definitely our sights are on winning that first game. That’s as far as we’re going to look right now. We have always taken the one-game-at-a-time approach. We know it’s a tough challenge, but at the same time, I don’t think our team cares who they play.”
The winner of the Iowa/Rutgers game will play Stanford, the top team in the Sacramento Regional.
“I’m going to worry about our first game against Rutgers,” UI sophomore Kamille Wahlin said. “They’ll be a huge team to get by. We have to take it one game at a time like we have all year and focus on them, knowing that C. Vivian Stringer will have them ready.”
Bluder knows what to expect: full-court pressure and great man-to-man defense.
“She put Iowa on the map, there’s no doubt about that,” Bluder said of Stringer. “We’re going against one of the best coaches in the business and we’re proud of Vivian and we’re proud of all the success that she has brought to our program.”
Then Bluder added a poetic twist:
“We’re proud that (Vivian’s) a Hawkeye and we hope she remembers that come Saturday.”
Four teams from the Big Ten Conference qualified for the NCAA field: Ohio State (No. 2 seed in the Dayton Region), Michigan State (No. 5 in the Kansas City Region), Wisconsin (No. 7 in the Kansas City Region) and the Hawkeyes.
There are also three teams from the state of Iowa in the field. Northern Iowa (17-15) is the No. 16 seed in the Kansas City Region and Iowa State (23-7) is the No. 4 seed in the Dayton Region.
“UNI is my alma mater, so it’s pretty neat that it’s the first time ever they’ve been in the tournament,” Bluder said. “Three teams from the state going to the NCAA tournament is wonderful. It speaks volumes for our state when you look at how many in-state kids are on those three teams, too.”
Bluder was pleasantly surprised with Iowa’s No. 8 seed.
“I really felt confident that we were in, so I wasn’t nervous, but it’s always a good thing to see your name up there no matter how many times you do this,” Bluder said. “It’s fun to see your name go up there and then to see what your path is.
“I thought we might be a 10 seed, but I’m thrilled that the selection committee thought we were better than we think we are sometimes.”