Megan Gustafson set to battle Baylor’s Kalani Brown on the block

Iowa’s Elite Eight matchup against Baylor will encompass more than just two of the best teams. It will also feature two of the best players in women’s college basketball.

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Megan Gustafson set to battle Baylor’s Kalani Brown on the block

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Not that this season has been easy for the Iowa women’s basketball team, but it hasn’t been in too many situations in which it wasn’t expected to win.

That will change in tonight’s Elite Eight matchup against No. 1 seed Baylor — the No. 2 seed Hawkeyes opened as 13.5-point underdogs.

That may faze some, but to Iowa, it’s an advantage.

“[Baylor’s] got all the pressure,” Hawkeye head coach Lisa Bluder said. “I think we actually are better in an underdog role. We’re better when we have something to prove. I think we’re at our best then.”

Bluder’s comments are backed up by most of Iowa’s Big Ten regular-season and tournament runs.

RELATED: Hawkeye women look to rebound from underdog status

Iowa beat a Rutgers team that was ranked above it on Jan. 23 and also topped Maryland twice as the lower-ranked team.

However, there was one significant time where Iowa fell face first as the underdogs: against then-No. 1 Notre Dame on Nov. 29.

Leaving South Bend, Indiana, after getting slaughtered, 105-71, stung, but this is a different Hawkeye team.

“We’ve gotten so much better [since then],” guard Kathleen Doyle said. “That isn’t a true testament to the type of season that we’ve had. We’ve played in a lot of big games since then and showed that we could be successful, so I wouldn’t say we’re worried about that [game].”

Doyle is certainly correct in saying Iowa has performed in critical games since the Notre Dame loss, but an issue from that game could be a factor again in today’s matchup.

The Hawkeyes lost the rebounding battle by 13 boards against the Fighting Irish, a major reason for the lopsided final.

Notre Dame ranks fourth in the nation in rebounding rate (56.7 percent), and Baylor tops it. The Bears are ranked first in the nation with an eye-popping 61.5 percent rebound rate.

“They are very, very good on the glass,” Bluder said. “I mean, [Baylor is] plus-17 in rebounding. That’s a lot of extra possessions. You can’t give an average team that many extra possessions, you really can’t give a great team that many extra possessions.”

Rebounding has also been an indicator as to how Iowa plays. The Hawkeyes are 3-6 when they’ve been out-rebounded and 26-0 when they win the rebounding battle.

“Challenging” may not be a strong enough word to describe what Baylor brings to the basketball court, but what a win would mean for the Hawkeyes have them itching for the test.

“At the end of last year, I sent a picture to my team of the Tampa Bay logo, and I said, ‘We’re going,’ ” forward Megan Gustafson said. “I 100 percent believe we can do it. As long as we stick to our game plan and have full confidence in each other, we can get a ‘W.’ ”

Iowa and Baylor will tip off at 6 p.m.; the game will be aired on ESPN 2.

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