INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa wasn’t supposed to have to wait this long to find out what its NCAA Tournament fate will be. But its Big Ten Tournament run came to an abrupt end thanks to a dominant performance from Ohio State in the quarterfinals. Selection Sunday is eight days away. And so the Hawkeyes wait.
Iowa’s early departure from Indianapolis has no bearing on if it will hear its name as one of the 68 teams in the field. But it might mean the Hawkeyes find themselves on the road to start their run. ESPN’s latest mock bracket has the team as a 4-seed in Iowa City. Could Iowa be booking plane tickets now? Possibly. But Iowa coach Lisa Bluder doesn’t think it should.
“I hope they look at the body of work because we have I think five top-25 RPI wins,” she said. “It's one of the (best) in the country. No, we didn't play as well as we could tonight, as well as we should have tonight, but again, I hope we're not resting this on one game but instead on the 29 games that led up to this.”
But now, uncertainty is in the air.
“Is one game going to knock us out? I don't know, we'll have to wait and see,” she said. “Now it definitely puts us on pins and needles, though, waiting, right?”
While the loss to Ohio State was frustrating, especially after Iowa beat them soundly in Iowa City earlier this season, Bluder made it clear that a loss to the Buckeyes isn’t a “bad” loss.
“We didn't lose to a bad team tonight,” she said. “Am I disappointed the way that we played? Yes. Did we lose to an inferior opponent? I don't think so. I think they played really, really well tonight, and I think they will continue to play well in the postseason.”
Regardless of where the Hawkeyes play, how they play needs to be better than their performance on Friday night — or this won’t be their only short tournament trip.
“I kind of want to apologize for our poor performance tonight. It really was pretty unexpected,” Bluder said in her opening statement after the loss. “I thought we had two good prep days before we came here, and obviously we didn't have to play late last night like Ohio State did, yet it looked like Ohio State had a lot more energy than we did today.”
An early 19-0 run by the Buckeyes told the story of the game in a span of 4 minutes and 14 seconds. Ohio State hit 10-of-15 shots in the opening quarter, and Bluder credited the opposition. But what Kathleen Doyle said about the rough start gives reason for pause, if not concern.
“I think we just have to be locked in earlier,” said Doyle, who led the team with 16 points. “Bring more energy and tenacity and make people uncomfortable. They were just kind of doing whatever they wanted on offense, and we need that to not happen.”
Is it an anomaly or a sign of future issues? It certainly seems more likely to be the former for a team that is nationally ranked and third in a conference that features four top-20 teams.
Bluder said there might be something to learn from how Ohio State executed offensively. As for Iowa’s offensive struggles, she chalked it up as an abnormality.
“I just feel like we missed a lot of shots that we usually make, a lot of bunnies inside, a lot of lay-ups, and that is a momentum killer when you miss those kinds of shots that you know are supposed to be going in for you,” she said.
This is a team that has just three seniors and starts a freshman and a sophomore. Bluder isn’t going to let one bad game tarnish what it has done over the previous 29 games.
“I don't know that they're going to really get much out of this game as far as rehashing it and watching it over and over again except for destroy their confidence, and I don't want to do that going into the postseason,” Bluder said. “I kind of want to remind them of the good things that they've done so far.”
The important thing is that they get another shot.
“It's do or die now, just like it was tonight,” Doyle said. “Now that we have that experience under our belt, I can tell you we definitely don't want to feel this way again. So we're going to hit it hard the next couple weeks preparing for the NCAA Tournament and try to make a deep run at it.”