Iowa just misses NCAA berth, preps for WNIT

Ryan Murken

As the NCAA women’s basketball tournament selection show came to a close Monday night, there were those who thought Iowa just missed a ninth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance by a single game.

Those within the Iowa program believe they were even closer to an NCAA berth.

“It’s one free throw, it’s one box out, it’s one offensive rebound, it’s one basket,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Tuesday. “That’s the difference between us being the NCAA tournament and NIT right now.”

Instead, Iowa will host Ball State (21-9) at 7 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament.

Women's NCAA Selection Committee chairwoman Chris Dawson said Iowa (19-13) was one of the first four teams left out of the women’s field of 64 when interviewed on ESPN.

Bluder said Tuesday she believed Iowa was team No. 65.

The close calls were so numerous, it’s hard to pinpoint just one.

There was a controversial November loss to George Washington in Austin and a last-second loss to Minnesota.

Throw in road losses to Michigan in which Iowa squandered double-digit second-half leads and the frustration of an WNIT berth is evident.

“I feel like we were one game away from being in the NCAA tournament and then you look at all the ones that we talked about,” Bluder began. “Not just the George Washington game, but the Minnesota game, where we were one second away from victory, or the Michigan State game here or Michigan there or Indiana there — you could go on a lot, but those are what-ifs.”

The close losses and games that got away this season left Iowa wondering in the wake of Monday’s selection show snub just how close they were to an NCAA berth.

“That makes it so much worse just knowing that we were the first ones out and that we could have potentially been in with just a couple of more possessions in each game, a couple more minutes a couple of more free throws, just a couple more anythings,” freshman point guard Tania Davis said. “Knowing that separated us from going to the WNIT to the tournament is tough.”

Bluder said her team was "cautiously optimistic" of its NCAA tournament chances as it gathered to watch the selection show.

The Hawkeyes left Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Monday admittedly disappointed with its near miss.

They also vowed to learn from their disappointment.

“It stings,” Iowa junior Ally Disterhoft said. “It hurts that we had to learn this way, but I do think we will learn from this.”

Disterhoft, who leads Iowa in scoring at 17.1 ppg, described the NCAA tournament as a missed opportunity and a chance to learn. The junior also viewed it as motivation as Iowa prepped for its WNIT opener.

“Coach Bluder always talks about how every possession matters,” Disterhoft said. “Maybe sometimes you hear that you you’re like ‘Really, does that one possession matter?’ but it really does. I think if people didn’t understand that at the beginning of the year that we do now.”

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

Iowa's Ally Disterhoft sets up a play during the Hawkeyes' game against Purdue at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016.