No underdog role for Iowa women in Sweet 16

Ryan Murken

Anyone expecting Iowa to take on an underdog role in its first Sweet 16 appearance in 19 years is going to be a little disappointed.

That isn't a part of the Hawkeyes' plans.

Third-seeded Iowa (27-6) looked nothing like an underdog in winning back-to-back NCAA Tournament games for the first time since 1996 last weekend.

Now facing second-seeded Baylor (32-3) in its first Sweet 16 game in 15 seasons under head coach Lisa Bluder, the Hawkeyes don't feel like underdogs.

"I don't think we feel like underdogs at all," Iowa freshman Whitney Jennings said. "We definitely have the confidence that we can go in there and win on Friday."

Iowa isn't conceding anything heading into Friday's regional semifinal meeting with Baylor at 6:30 p.m. at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

That includes experience against a Baylor team that has reached the NCAA Tournament 12 straight seasons and is making its seventh straight Sweet 16 appearance.

The Bears have had plenty of success in the Sweet 16, winning five times including last year and won national titles in 2005 and 2012.

This year's Baylor squad starts three sophomores while Iowa boasts three seniors in its lineup.

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder likes her veteran lineup against the Bears' tournament experience.

"When you look at Baylor they have been there a lot but they are a younger team," Bluder said. "Our players have had a lot of NCAA Tournament experience, our seniors have been around a lot longer so I think I'm going to go with that on this one."

Baylor boasts plenty of talent to go with its pedigree.

Junior point guard Niya Johnson leads the nation in assists (8.7 ppg) while sophomore Nina Davis ranks in the top-20 in the nation in scoring (20.9) and was the Big 12 player of the year.

The fifth-ranked Bears have lost only three times this season, all to NCAA Tournament teams and is 35-11 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa knows all that but still doesn't see itself as an underdog.

"We don't look at it that way," Iowa senior Melissa Dixon said of the underdog role. "They are a two seed but we are the three seed. We know that Baylor is a great team but we have a lot of experience on our team as well and we know that we can compete with them on Friday."

While the Sweet 16 is a new experience for Iowa, the NCAA Tournament is not.

Friday's game will be the eighth NCAA Tournament game for Iowa's four seniors.

The Hawkeyes are 4-3 in their last four NCAA Tournaments after its 2-0 showing last week.

"I think experience really helps in this kind of situation," Doolittle said. "None of us have been in the Sweet 16 before but we have been in the tournament situation and the intensity that comes in that situation. I think we'll have to rely on our experience," Bethany Doolittle said. "This season class and the experience we have I think will help us out."

Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.