CLOSE

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder is flanked by seniors Tania Davis, Hannah Stewart and Megan Gustafson after a 74-50 win against Northwestern. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

IOWA CITY, Ia. — For all of the factors in play this time of year — seeding improvement, resume enhancement, momentum building — Lisa Bluder made it clear what Iowa’s primary focus is heading into this week’s Big Ten Tournament.

“What they want is to be cutting down the nets," Bluder said Thursday. 

So much so that the Hawkeyes went through those motions after Tuesday’s practice — climb up the ladder, sport a big smile, make a few net slices, celebrate. Iowa, currently ranked 10th and seeded second in Indianapolis, hasn’t won a Big Ten Tournament title since 2001. But Bluder believes the pieces are in place now to do so again.

“I just wanted to give them the experience of what it feels like to be a champion — and put that visual in their minds,” Bluder said. “It’s something I’ve done in the past, and I just feel like this team is a team that has the potential to cut down a net on Sunday. They need to know how to do it and how good it feels.”

Iowa (23-6) begins its postseason run at 5:30 p.m. Friday against No. 10 Indiana, which knocked off Minnesota on Thursday night. With the Hoosiers hoovering around the bubble, a victory would significantly bolster their NCAA Tournament chances.

Iowa had hoped for another crack at Indiana. Bluder made that clear after Sunday’s win over Northwestern and again on Thursday’s teleconference. Indiana’s stunning comeback win over the Hawkeyes kept Iowa from securing a regular-season conference title.

Perhaps that’s why a title this weekend would be extra special.

"We've had some incredible memories," Megan Gustafson said on Senior Day, "and we definitely want to keep it going. We're going to keep fighting like crazy."

As cemented as Iowa’s hosting resume has been for a few weeks now, a mildly surprising twist came with the committee’s second top-16 reveal this week.

The Hawkeyes jumped from 10th to eighth, meaning Iowa would be the last No. 2 seed if the NCAA Tournament started today. A solid run in Indianapolis could make that prediction a reality.

What’s the difference between a No. 2 and a No. 3 seed? Well, not much in terms of potential matchups or foes. But Bluder does see an advantage in global perception.

“It’s really national respect,” Bluder said. “Being able to show your recruits that you are one of the top eight teams in the United States? I think that’s pretty impressive. So for me, it’s more of that — just that recognition, in terms of what this team has done.”

After the shocking Indiana stumble, Iowa climbed back on track in an important final week. Double-digit wins over Nebraska and Northwestern were the perfect remedy, following a February slog.

Now, the Hawkeyes are healthy and recharged heading into March. Iowa hopes this weekend is the start of a lengthy postseason surge.

“What we have to hang our hat on is experience,” Bluder said. “We’ve been there before, so we can pick up on things maybe without going over them as much in scout since you don’t have time for that (full-blown) scouting report.

“And then we have to make shots. That sounds like a no-brainer, but making shots and limiting mistakes is so important. No turnovers, no silly fouls. If we can do that, we can make a run here.”

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE