Iowa similar to Kim Mulkey's experienced Baylor squad

Ryan Murken
Baylor Lady Bears head coach Kim Mulkey watches the game with the Texas Tech Lady Raiders at United Supermarkets Arena.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Iowa clipped the nets at Carver-Hawkeye Arena following last Sunday's breakthrough second-round win over Miami in NCAA Tournament .

The Hawkeyes spent Monday's day off soaking in the celebration that surrounded their first Sweet 16 berth since 1996 like a team that had accomplished its biggest goal.

By Tuesday, Iowa was back to work preparing for its next test like a team that was still hungry.

"Too often you see teams set goals and when they reach the goals, it's like, 'It's over now' and we did not want that to happen," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "We believe we can go farther and we quickly reset our goals on Monday and set our sights on moving on and I have not felt a letdown whatsoever with our players in their preparation this week."

The Hawkeyes certainly can't afford a letdown on Friday in their next, and likely toughest, challenge of the season.

Iowa (26-7) will face Baylor (32-3) in a regional semifinal at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. The Hawkeyes are seeking a spot in the Elite Eight for the first time since 1993.

"Our team has been great at putting things in perspective all season," Iowa sophomore Ally Disterhoft said. "We have had some pretty great wins this season.

We enjoyed it through the day and the next day we're back at the drawing board."

While Iowa is making its first Sweet 16 trip in 19 years, Baylor has made it an annual occurrence under head coach Kim Mulkey.

Baylor is playing in its seventh straight Sweet 16 and has advanced to the Final Four twice during that span.

Second-seeded Baylor has won six consecutive games since dropping back-to-back contests at Oklahoma and at Iowa State in late February and won their two NCAA Tournament openers by a combined 70 points.

"We know we're coming in as the underdog, but my team kids of likes that feel," Bluder said.

Previous postseason success may differ between the two teams, but there are plenty of similarities as well.

Both teams get up and down the court and can score points in bunches.

Iowa is currently seventh in the nation in scoring at 79.9 points per game while Baylor is eighth, averaging a nearly identical 79.8 points per contest.

"They are obviously a great team and they push the ball just like we do," Iowa freshman Whitney Jennings said. "They get out in transition and run so a big key for us is going to be transition defense."

The team's offensive production comes in entirely different ways.

Iowa relies on its balance.

The Hawkeyes don't have a player averaging more than 15.2 points per game, but feature four players scoring at least 13.4 per game.

Baylor relies on Big 12 player of the year Nina Davis.

A 5-foot-11 sophomore, Davis is the only Baylor player to average in double figures, but ranks in the top 20 in the nation in scoring at 20.9 points per game.

"Obviously Davis is an incredible player," Bluder said. "Player of the Year in the Big 12, she is only a sophomore, and she's so effective offensively, shooting 58 percent from the field, that's an incredible number. And so she's obviously something that we have to be weary of."

The individual scoring isn't the only difference.

Iowa does its best work from the perimeter while Baylor prefers to do its damage in the paint.

Led by Melissa Dixon, the nation's leader in made 3-pointers per game, the Hawkeyes are shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.

Iowa's 673 3-point attempts are more than double Baylor's total (334) and Dixon's 122 made 3-pointers are more than Baylor has made as a team.

"They like to shoot, I think everybody in their starting five can shoot threes and we're going to make them drive and get them out of their game," Davis said. "I think the game is going to come down to defense honestly, both of us averaging almost 80 points a game, so defense wins games, and that's what it's going to come down to tomorrow."

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NCAA Regional Semifinal

Baylor (32-3) vs. Iowa (26-7)

• When: Friday, 6:30 p.m.

• Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena , Oklahoma City

• TV: ESPN 2

• Stat Leaders: Iowa – Melissa Dixon 14.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg; Samantha Logic 13.4 ppg., 7.9 apg; Bethany Doolittle 14.1 ppg, 7 rpg. Baylor – Nina Davis 20.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg; Khadijiah Cave 9.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg; Niya Johnson 7.8 ppg, 8.7 apg.

• About the Lady Bears: Baylor won both the Big 12 regular-season title and the conference tournament for the fifth straight season and has won six straight games entering Friday's matchup. The Bears have an all-time record of 5-4 in the Sweet 16 and have reached the Final Four three times under Kim Mulkey.

• About the Hawkeyes: Coming off one of the biggest wins in recent program history, Iowa will try to reach the Elite 8 for the first time 1993. The Hawkeyes are appearing in their sixth Sweet 16 and first since 1996 and have an all-time record of 3-2 in Sweet 16 games.

• What to watch: Baylor and Iowa have never met but if you like to compare common opponents there are three this season. Both teams defeated Michigan State, Baylor by 19 points and Iowa by two. Iowa defeated Iowa State by nine while points while the Bears split a pair of Big 12 meetings with the Cyclones, winning 79-47 in Waco and falling 76-71 in Ames. Baylor defeated Arkansas 73-44 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday while Iowa fell to the Razorbacks 77-67 in November.