March 14, 2016
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By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The sting of missing the NCAA Tournament hasn’t dissipated for the University of Iowa women’s basketball team, but the Hawkeyes are focused on making the most of their 2016 postseason opportunity.
The Hawkeyes host Ball State in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) on Thursday at 7 p.m. (CT) on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“It’s a tough situation,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said at a Tuesday news conference. “We know we were one of the last four teams out (of the NCAA Tournament), maybe the last team left out.
“We took last night to be bummed, but then you wake up and realize you have a lot of basketball you can play. The WNIT is going to be competitive; there are a ton of great teams. We have to use this to get better and if we make a deep run, that’s going to help us for next season.”
UI junior Ally Disterhoft
“We were right there on the table, talked about, and (the committee) said it was a hard decision. It was still the decision that was made. Do we feel like we’re better than some of the teams, absolutely, but we’re not there. We’re in the WNIT, so we’re going to make this the best we can.”
There’s a new picture gracing junior Ally Disterhoft’s locker following Monday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show. It’s the ESPN graphic showing the Hawkeyes as one of the “Last Four Out.”
“That’s going to be motivation for the rest of my time at Iowa,” said Disterhoft. “I printed it off because it’s hard to see that. You’re going to use it for what it felt like to get better.”
Bluder is hoping the Hawkeyes can learn from their near-miss. The team was a win away from being in the NCAA Tournament for a ninth straight season. One win.
“George Washington, Minnesota — we were one second away from victory — Michigan State here, Michigan there, Indiana there… you could go on,” said Bluder. “Those are what-ifs. I’ve tried to stress to the team it is one possession.
“You can’t take for granted a single possession. It’s one free throw, one box out, one basket. That’s the difference between us being in the NCAA Tournament and the WNIT right now. That would make me want to pay attention every single time I’m on the floor and every detail.”
When the Hawkeyes take the practice court today, Bluder says the page needs to turn. The focus needs to be on the Cardinals.
“There is a grieving process, just like after you lose a game to dissect it and understand it,” said Bluder. “You want them to hurt a little bit and understand what could have been, but there needs to be a point that we move on.
“We have to do that because if we don’t, we’ll have a short-lived WNIT appearance.”
It starts with Ball State, a team that finished 21-9 overall and was the runner-up in the West Division of the Mid-American Conference with a 13-5 record. The Cardinals’ Nathalie Fontaine is a three-time first-team All-MAC selection and the reigning MAC Player of the Year.
“We took last night to be bummed, but then you wake up and realize you have a lot of basketball you can play,” said Disterhoft. “The WNIT is going to be competitive; there are a ton of great teams. We have to use this to get better and if we make a deep run, that’s going to help us for next season.”
UCLA, the 2015 WNIT Champion, used its run as a springboard to a No. 3 seed in this season’s NCAA Tournament. The experience of playing “win or go home” games can be beneficial.
“It can mean a lot for a basketball team as far as getting extra games and building some confidence going into the next year,” said Bluder. “It won’t be easy. We have to work hard and earn every one of these games.”
Tickets are on sale through the UI Athletics Ticket Office by calling 800-IA-HAWKS, or online at www.hawkeyesports.com. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for youth, and free for UI students.