Iowa women's basketball: Home success has Hawkeyes confident ahead of NCAA Tournament

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Last year’s draw brought on the glitz and glamor of Los Angeles — not the ideal setting for a group mostly making its NCAA Tournament debut. The Hawkeyes’ west coast stay was a short one.

The itinerary should be much smoother this time. As Iowa readies for this year’s Big Dance, the No. 2 seed Hawkeyes are thankful this run begins at home and not in another time zone.

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder is introduced while the Hawkeyes women's basketball team hosts a Big Ten Tournament title celebration, following the NCAA selection show, on Monday, March 18, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

“We get to sleep in our own beds. We get the comfort of staying here in Iowa City and not having to travel,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “This time of year, you’re starting to get a little bit worn down. The last thing you want to do is get on a plane or a bus and go again.

“So we’re thankful to have our fan base here and the confidence that you did go undefeated on your home court. I think it’s a big advantage, and we’re going to need it.”

The Hawkeyes (26-6) begin the NCAA Tournament Friday against No. 15 Mercer — one of two Carver-Hawkeye Arena games Iowa hopes for this weekend. Barring a stunning first-round upset, Bluder’s squad will get the Missouri vs. Drake winner Sunday in front of a local crowd.

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The Hawkeyes owned Iowa City in the regular season, going 15-0 with little resistance. Iowa was one of just eight Division I women’s basketball programs to go undefeated at home this year, joining Connecticut, Baylor, James Madison, Rice, Lamar, Stephen F. Austin and South Dakota.

Twelve of its 15 home wins were by double digits. Ranked foes like Rutgers, Michigan State and Maryland all fell hard when visiting Iowa City. The home Cy-Hawk win was a big jolt as well.

Pile those results on top of the confidence already bubbling, and it’s easy to see why the Hawkeyes feel good about the situation they’ve created.  

“The coaches and everyone around us have done a really good of telling us, ‘Hey, you’re really good. And you need to believe that and know that,’” senior Hannah Stewart said. “Especially after winning this Big Ten Tournament championship, we’ve really wrapped our head around knowing how good we are.

"… We know we have the potential, ability and the weapons to go further than the first two rounds. We have everything we need right in our circle.”

The last time Iowa hosted NCAA Tournament games was 2015, when it surged to the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 3 seed. That’s the best finish Bluder has ever had in her 29-year coaching career.

Her current team is in position to match that and then some. NCAA Tournament home games aren’t handed out — they’re earned through consistent dominance for months on end. Buoyed by home perfection, Iowa has proved that.

Now it’s time to cash in the success. The Hawkeyes are a different animal inside their friendly confines. That might be all it takes for Iowa to kick this postseason excursion off right.

"It’s going to be huge to be able to play in front of our home crowd," junior Makenzie Meyer said. “I don’t think I’ve ever played at an arena that’s drawn as many as we have. So it’s going to be really fun to get a huge crowd."

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.