Kathleen Doyle after Iowa avoids an upset: 'March Madness is March Madness for a reason' Dargan Southard, email@example.com
IOWA CITY, Ia. — So it wasn’t the prettiest opening act. Far from it, in fact. The second-seeded Hawkeyes know this and got to handle the tension of a top dog on serious upset alert.
As it readies for Sunday’s 1 p.m. second-round NCAA Tournament game against No. 7 seed Missouri, Iowa hopes the scare it experienced Friday proves more beneficial than concerning.
“Any game in this tournament is going to be hard-fought,” junior guard Kathleen Doyle said after Iowa’s uninspiring 66-61 win over No. 15 seed Mercer. “We were confident. The game hadn’t gone the way that we planned it, but we weren’t going to let that happen on our home court — we weren’t going to let our season end there.
“It was just a not-going-to-happen mentality.”
It’s one thing for a coach or former player to try to convey the dangers of March through a speech or visual. It’s entirely different to have those pressures come to life and your season legitimately hang in the balance.
This group of Hawkeyes hadn’t dealt with such a scenario until now. All the main pieces were on last year’s NCAA Tournament team that fell to Creighton in the first round, but that wasn’t quite the same. A loss Friday would’ve hurt worse — much, much worse.
Iowa hopes now that it's got all of the early-tournament turbulence out of the way.
“Our team wanted to come out and play so well for this great crowd — we are so appreciative of everyone that came out. Sometimes, you want something so badly, right?” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “You remember last year, and you want to do so well for these people that came out to watch us play. So I think that got to us a little bit.
“We'll be more prepared for that on Sunday, for sure.”
The Mercer win marked Iowa’s third consecutive crowd of 10,000-plus, as Carver-Hawkeye Arena was Friday’s highest-attended first-round NCAA Tournament venue (10,720). The second round should bring more of the same. The average attendance for Iowa’s last three Sunday home games was 10,695.
Considering how loud it got at times Friday, the home-court advantage should provide a comforting feeling in the Hawkeyes' matchup against Missouri. Iowa didn’t anticipate needing fan energy to fuel a down-the-stretch win, but it was there, regardless.
“It felt amazing,” senior Tania Davis said. “To be able to run out to a crowd like that and then the entire game, to have a crowd tuned in like that and be able to wake us up a bit is definitely a good thing. I’m glad we’re hosting.”
Davis, like the rest of her teammates, didn’t have a concrete explanation for Mercer forcing 24 turnovers — something that’ll send Iowa home if there’s a Sunday repeat. Bluder pegged it as “uncharacteristic.” Multiple Hawkeyes reminded everyone they hadn’t played in almost two weeks.
Whether Friday was an unfortunate blip or a precursor to something worse remains to be seen. Iowa will tell you it’s the former. That’ll have to do until Sunday’s opening tip.
“That's what you do,” Bluder said, “find a way to win."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.