March 17, 2014
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- They knew they were in the NCAA Tournament for a seventh straight time and they knew they would play at home in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The only uncertainty Monday for the No. 19 University of Iowa women's basketball team was a seed and an opponent.
The answers: six and Marist.
An Iowa-Marist matchup features two of the most NCAA-tested programs in the last decade. The sixth-seeded Hawkeyes (26-8) host the No. 11 Marist Red Foxes (27-6) on Sunday, March 23, in a first-round NCAA game beginning at 7 p.m. (CT). Marist lost four of its first five games in November (including 62-59 at Ohio State), but finished with nine straight wins to advance to the NCAA Tournament for a ninth consecutive season.
A relaxed and rested group of Hawkeyes gathered in their locker room to watch the selection show on ESPN. They spent the previous week rejuvenating their bodies that suffered wear and tear from a brutal Big Ten Conference stretch and a tournament run that saw them play four games in four days. A major focus in practice has been rebounding.
Now the concentration turns to Marist.
"We felt very good this whole week that we were in the tournament, it lets you relax and work on things with your team that you need to work on to get better instead of nervousness about bring in the tournament. That's the big thing -- we went into the week relaxed and focused on ourselves rather than worrying if we were in the tournament."
UI basketball coach
While this will be the first meeting between the teams, the Red Foxes are used to seeing Big Ten opponents in the postseason. They lost to Michigan State in 2013 (55-47), but knocked off Ohio State in 2007 (67-63).
"Every team that makes the NCAA Tournament is going to be a great one, so we're going to have to be ready to play Sunday and I think we will be," said UI freshman Ally Disterhoft.
For Taylor, the lone senior, it was a more businesslike approach Monday than she has taken in the past.
"I want to keep playing and I want to keep wearing the Iowa jersey," Taylor said. "That's motivation for me."
Having a week without an opponent was especially beneficial for Logic, who spends her share of time during games collecting floor burns. She is ready to return to a game week mentality.
"It's exciting to know who you're playing," Logic said. "Now it's time to get back into our rhythm of knowing who to prepare for; we needed some of that time last week to work on ourselves."
This marks Iowa's 23rd trip to the NCAA Tournament. Bluder has led the Hawkeyes to 11 NCAA appearances in her 14 years at Iowa -- Iowa is the only Big Ten team, and one of 14 teams in the country, to appear in the last seven NCAA Tournaments (Baylor, Fresno State, DePaul, Tennessee, Stanford, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, Duke, Georgia, Marist, Texas A&M, Iowa State, and Connecticut).
The Red Foxes earned a share of their 11th-straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) regular season title this year and went on to claim their ninth-consecutive MAAC Tournament title (10th overall).
The Hawkeyes are 1-2 all time as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In 1991, the sixth-seeded Hawkeyes defeated Montana, 64-53, in the first round before falling to Washington, 70-53, in the second round. Both contests were played in Seattle. Iowa was most recently a No. 6 seed in 2011, losing at Gonzaga, 92-86.
"We feel good about the way we're playing now," Bluder said.
Preceding the Iowa-Marist game Sunday will be No. 3 Louisville (30-4) against No. 14 Idaho (25-8) at 4:30 p.m. (CT). Winners will play in the second round Tuesday, March 25 at 8:30 p.m. (CT).