March 4, 2015
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Twenty-nine times this season the No. 14 University of Iowa women’s basketball team took the floor. It was victorious nearly 80 percent of the time.
The month of March is a maddening stretch for college basketball because with one hiccup, you are history.
“You can’t have an off game,” UI senior Samantha Logic said. “We have had bad games in the regular season and you use that as your motivation later. In postseason, you lose in the Big Ten Tournament and you wait until NCAAs. You lose in the NCAA Tournament and you’re done.
“You have to be ready to play your best and grind it out. You will take any kind of win at this point.”
The Hawkeyes (23-6 overall, 14-4 Big Ten) are the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament running March 4-8 at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. They play the winner of Thursday’s matchup between No. 7 seeded Nebraska (20-9, 10-8) and No. 10 Illinois (15-15, 6-12). Iowa swept Nebraska this season, winning 78-72 in overtime on Jan. 26 in Iowa City, and 69-61 on Feb. 12 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Illinois overcame a 14-point deficit in the first half to stun Iowa, 73-61, on Jan. 8 in Champaign, Illinois.
The uncertainty of an opening opponent restricts game-planning for the Hawkeyes, who have used the time since their last game Sunday fine-tuning themselves while touching on the Cornhuskers and Illini.
“We want to keep it going as long as we can. This group of girls is close and that is going to make it that much more special when we win games. It will be about keeping that chemistry alive on the court and this team has been good at that all year.”
UI senior center
“We can’t (practice) exactly against Illinois’ buzz (defense) or playing against Nebraska’s offense,” Logic said. “They play different styles, so there is a lot of mental preparation.”
At times like these, the mind is more important than the body and mental preparation is made easier with a veteran team like Iowa’s. Senior starters Logic, Melissa Dixon, and Bethany Doolittle have played in seven Big Ten and five NCAA Tournament games. They know what it takes to unite on short notice.
“Upperclassmen have been there before, they know what to expect, but also they catch on easier than a younger team because it doesn’t have that experience,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said. “It comes down to a lot of gut-check. Everybody is tired. Everybody is going through tough game, after tough game, after tough game, so it becomes mental as much as physical. It comes down to remembering your fundamentals because you don’t have as much time to prepare for the next opponent.”
The Hawkeyes played four games in four days last season at the Big Ten Tournament, downing Illinois, Purdue, and Ohio State before falling to Nebraska. Iowa’s current senior class knows all about the Cornhuskers being a thorn in their postseason sneakers. In each of the last three seasons, the Hawkeyes were defeated in the Big Ten Tournament be their nemesis to the west.
In the rugged Big Ten, it doesn’t matter who you face, it is a guaranteed tussle.
“We were ranked as the No. 1 basketball conference in America and now we’re going into a tournament where there are going to be no easy games,” Bluder said. “Those are the battles of being in the Big Ten Tournament.”
Doolittle believes the closeness of the Hawkeye team will pay off in the postseason.
“We want to keep it going as long as we can,” she said. “This group of girls is close and that is going to make it that much more special when we win games. It will be about keeping that chemistry alive on the court and this team has been good at that all year.”