Iowa women look to avenge last season’s NCAA Tournament loss

After exiting the tournament in the first round last year, Iowa will attempt to take advantage of its home court and advance to the Round of 32.

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Iowa women look to avenge last season’s NCAA Tournament loss

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder reacts to a call during the women's Big Ten tournament basketball game vs. Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday, March 8, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Hoosiers 70-61.

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder reacts to a call during the women's Big Ten tournament basketball game vs. Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday, March 8, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Hoosiers 70-61.

Katina Zentz

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder reacts to a call during the women's Big Ten tournament basketball game vs. Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday, March 8, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Hoosiers 70-61.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder reacts to a call during the women's Big Ten tournament basketball game vs. Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday, March 8, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Hoosiers 70-61.

Robert Read, Sports Reporter

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The No. 8 Iowa women’s basketball team has been waiting for another crack at the NCAA Tournament ever since a disappointing 76-70 upset loss to Creighton in the first round of last season’s tournament.

This year, the Hawkeyes will host the first two rounds as a No. 2 seed and are set up for their best run since the 1993 campaign where C. Vivian Stringer took them to the Final Four.

The only roadblock standing in between Iowa and a trip to the Round of 32 is No. 15 seed Mercer.

The Southern Conference champions are flying high on a 17-game win streak as the Bears make their way into Iowa City.

A No. 15 seed has never won a game in the NCAA Women’s Tournament, but Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder recognizes a challenge when she sees one.

“They know what they are good at and they just do it,” Bluder said. “They play hard and they compete, I mean when you win 17-straight games, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself coming into this tournament, especially since they played well in last year’s tournament. They challenged themselves in the non-conference, so they are experienced playing against bigger schools.”

Bluder is in her 19th season at the helm at Iowa, and she is leading what is likely her most talented team during her tenure. Success has been rolling in for Iowa this season, and Bluder was recognized for that Thursday.

Bluder was named one of the four finalists for the Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year Award. Wes Moore of N.C. State, Baylor’s Kim Mulkey, and Vic Schaefer of Mississippi State fill out a talented pool of finalists.

Bluder is appreciative of earning the distinction of being named a finalist but wants to make it clear that this is hardly an individual honor.

“Any time you get recognized for a coaching award or anything of that nature, it’s reflective of the kind of team you have,” Bluder said. “When the head coach gets recognition, you don’t get there by yourself. It’s reflective of the entire staff, the team, administration, and the university. It’s a package deal, and that’s what makes me happy about it.”

Bluder is the program’s all-time leader in victories, and she will look to grind out another one on Friday against an underrated Mercer team.

“They are very similar to us in that they are a veteran-led team,” Bluder said. “They have five really good senior players, four of which are starters. Like I told the team, Mercer only lost to Florida State by one point, and we lost to FSU by four. They are a team with a lot of experience, so they won’t be afraid of the big stage.”

Iowa will tip off against Mercer Friday at 1 p.m. to open competition at the Iowa City site.

Playing at home will give Iowa an advantage, but Bluder wants to stick to the basics and walk away with something last year’s squad could not accomplish: a tournament victory.

“We love playing in Iowa City at Carver-Hawkeye Arena,” she said. “We think it’s going to be a great atmosphere for everyone involved. The important thing for us is to come out of the tunnel ready to play Iowa basketball just like any other game. If we can do that, I like our chances.”