By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Monday felt like game day in Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the No. 8 University of Iowa women’s basketball team, eight days removed from winning the Big Ten Tournament.
Hype videos were played on the jumbo, overhead screen, hundreds of fans cheered, and Player of the Year Megan Gustafson set another career-best, this time for autographs signed in one sitting.
It was a combination of a championship celebration that gradually morphed into Selection Monday for the NCAA Tournament-bound Hawkeyes.
“We’re not done,” said Gustafson, minutes after signing hundreds of autographs for Hawkeye fans who made the pilgrimage to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was on the same Mediacom Court in Carver-Hawkeye Arena where Gustafson and her teammates/sisters won 15 of 15 games this season.
As the No. 2 seed in the Greensboro, North Carolina Region — highest in Iowa women’s basketball history — the Hawkeyes will take the home court again Friday against Mercer at 1 p.m. (CT).
It’s time to sweep the Big Ten championship confetti aside for the remainder of the postseason. A new tournament and a new challenge awaits.
“It means a lot being a senior, we get two more games in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and we don’t lose here,” said Iowa senior point guard Tania Davis. “Our fans are great and we feel they are our sixth man and they provide a lot of energy and spark.”
Around here, the memory of a three-game blitz through Indiana, Rutgers, and Maryland at the Big Ten Tournament from March 8-10 in Indianapolis is still fresh. Many in attendance Monday probably also remember the last time Iowa hosted NCAA Tournament games — in 2015 when the Hawkeyes successfully defended their home court against American and Miami to advance to the Sweet 16.
“I love playing in Carver and I know the rest of our team does, too,” Iowa senior forward Hannah Stewart said. “But we want to go far. We’re not going to be satisfied with one or two games.”
Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder, who three days before the Big Ten Tournament had her team practice cutting down the net, now has the Hawkeyes visualizing themselves in a series of mini-tournaments. The desired destinations would be Iowa City to Greensboro to Tampa.
“This weekend is one tournament, next weekend is another tournament,” Bluder said. “Don’t look at the whole thing, because that can be overwhelming. Instead, focus on one mini-tournament at a time.”
When addressing the crowd, Bluder called the 2018-19 season a “well-scripted story.” She would like to add another successful chapter and currently has the Hawkeyes on a roll, winning five in a row, 10 of 11, and 15 of 17. She described the team as focused and enthusiastic.
“We’re improving ourselves and adding some wrinkles,” Bluder said. “That was great winning the Big Ten Tournament, but we don’t want that to be the peak. We want to keep getting better. We feel every day you either regress or you get better; we challenged our team that we have to get better every day and I feel they did.”
Mercer (25-7 overall) comes to Iowa City after winning the Southern Conference Tournament. The Bears have won 17 straight games and haven’t lost since Jan. 6. Mercer plays its home games in Hawkins Arena with a capacity of 3,200. By Monday, about double that amount of tickets had already been sold for what promises to be a pro-Iowa crowd in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I want them to have confidence and embrace the No. 2 seed and the home court because that is worth something,” Bluder said.
Awaiting the Mercer/Iowa winner on Sunday will be either seventh-seeded Missouri (23-10) or 10th-seeded Drake (27-6). Missouri is coached by Robin Pingeton, who played for Bluder at St. Ambrose; Drake is coached by Jennie Baranczyk, who played for Bluder at Iowa.
Iowa defeated Drake, 91-82, on Dec. 21 in Des Moines, Iowa.
“I don’t think anyone is going to want to play us on our home court,” Gustafson said. “We’re going to keep this momentum going for sure.”
Tickets to the NCAA First and Second Rounds are on sale now. They can be purchased HERE.
NCAA Ticket Prices:
All-Session Ticket Prices:
- Adult: $30
- Senior: $15 (50 & above)
- Youth: $15 (18 & under)
Single-Session Ticket Prices:
- Adult: $16
- Senior: $10 (50 & above)
- Youth: $10 (18 & under)