Iowa women's basketball: Hawkeyes eye postseason surge as Big Ten Tournament begins

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — There's no bubble chatter, no massive seeding upgrades clearly at stake. But that doesn't mean the Iowa women's basketball team can't benefit from a lengthy Big Ten Tournament stay.

As the Hawkeyes (15-8) transition into postseason mode at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, there's a path to get March Madness started on the correct foot. Sixth-seeded Iowa opens with No. 11 seed Purdue (7-15) on Wednesday night at approximately 7:30 p.m. on FS2. A win would send the Hawkeyes to Thursday's quarterfinals against No. 3 seed Rutgers (14-3).

Iowa went 2-0 against those two foes.

"If you play well, you get to play another game — and that's what is fun this time of year," Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said Tuesday. "That's what kids want to do. That's what coaches want to do. We want to play. So we get the opportunity now, and the better you play, the longer you get to play."

You won't hear much Rutgers talk with Purdue not yet conquered — and there's good reason beyond the traditional "don't overlook anyone" coachspeak. Just re-visit Iowa's lone game with Boilermakers way back on Jan. 18. 

Less than a week after seeing its 42-game home winning streak snapped, Iowa nearly made it back-to-back home losses against a Purdue team that had no business staying close. A chance for an emphatic rebound win vanished as the Boilermakers owned a 75-69 advantage with five minutes remaining. The Hawkeyes needed a 13-0 run down the stretch to avoid disaster

Iowa and Purdue have gone in different directions since — the Hawkeyes are eyeing the NCAA Tournament, while the Boilermakers have dropped nine of their last 11 games — but the veterans in black and gold know postseason basketball operates differently. 

"Right now, the past records don't really matter," redshirt senior Alexis Sevillian said. "Those wins and losses in the regular season don't really matter because people are fighting for seeds and spots in the NCAA Tournament. So it's kind of like a fresh start. 

"First round — we beat Purdue in the regular season — but we can't have that mentality going into this game. When you start to overlook a team, those games don't end well."    

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder huddles up with players in a timeout during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game against Nebraska, Saturday, March 6, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Avoid a Boilermaker stumble and Iowa can only benefit from the rest of the week.

Toppling the Scarlet Knights again would give the Hawkeyes another Quadrant 1 victory — a chance they missed out on when the postponed Jan. 24 game at Rutgers was never re-scheduled. A run to the semifinals could see Iowa face No. 2 seed Indiana for a third time after being swept in the regular season. Or if No. 7 seed Michigan State wants to pull a quarterfinal upset (assuming it doesn't get upset by No. 10 seed Penn State), facing the Spartans on a neutral court would be another Quadrant 1 opportunity. 

Any victories after Purdue could further boost an NCAA Tournament resume that's only grown stronger in recent weeks. After hovering around the No. 8 to No. 9 seed range for most of the conference slate, Iowa is currently a projected No. 7 seed in ESPN's latest bracketology. That's where College Sports Madness has the Hawkeyes as well. RealTimeRPI.com has Bluder's squad slotted a bit lower.

"If you're going to win four games in four days (at the Big Ten Tournament), you're going to get on a roll," freshman Caitlin Clark said. "And playing back-to-back-to-back-to-back can definitely be used to your advantage, for sure." 

Should Iowa maximize its Indianapolis stay and reach's Saturday's title game, then junior forward Logan Cook would be eligible for a return following her positive COVID-19 test. Cook tested positive on Feb. 24 and has missed the Hawkeyes' last four games. She has finished her mandatory quarantine and will travel with the team to the Big Ten Tournament.

Either way, Cook will be ready for the NCAA Tournament. Iowa hopes it is, too, after tackling the week in Indianapolis.    

"I think this could be great momentum going into the NCAA Tournament," Bluder said, "if we have a good showing at the Big Ten Tournament. That always gives you confidence in that situation as well."

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.