'GameDay' picking Iowa 'remarkable for our women’s basketball' — but Nebraska is first

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — Lisa Bluder certainly understands the importance of "College GameDay" coming to Carver-Hawkeye Arena later this month and what it means for her Iowa women’s basketball program.

But first … a dangerous Nebraska squad looking to cash in on Iowa’s arrival, both with a massive crowd and a top-10 upset.

“I guess they’ve sold 12,000 tickets already,” Bluder said Friday. “We seem to bring out the best in everybody. I think that’s a compliment to our team.”

If Bluder’s estimation ends up being correct, Saturday’s 1 p.m. showdown (Big Ten Network) at Pinnacle Bank Arena will mark the fourth time this season No. 7 Iowa has played in front at least 9,900 fans on the road. Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana and now Nebraska have saved their best attendance for the Hawkeyes.

With distractions flying in every direction — ESPN's "College GameDay" coming to a sold-out Indiana game Feb. 26, a top-10 road showdown at Maryland next Tuesday, a Big Ten regular-season title race — one could find a path for upset elements to materialize Saturday.

Bluder, though, has seen her veteran squad handle just about every task thrown at it. It's one of the many reasons Iowa (21-5, 13-2 Big Ten) is in the position it’s in with March quickly approaching.

“It’s the same talk we had with our players before the Wisconsin game,” Bluder said. “They are a really smart group. They’re mature and understand the importance of every game. They know not to look ahead. Some of those things you really have to convince a young team, but not a veteran team. They understand it. They’ve been around.”

That experience proves vital against a Nebraska (14-12, 6-9) team that’s shown flashes of brilliance amid inconsistency. The Cornhuskers have been straddling the NCAA Tournament bubble for several weeks now, their current three-game losing streak doing them no lasting-impression favors. Desperation, though, can often be the biggest motivation — and a packed house full of energy could be what Nebraska needs to break free from its funk.

“They have so many outside weapons,” Bluder said, “that it becomes harder to guard their inside weapons.”

Iowa guard Taylor McCabe attempts a 3-point basket against Rutgers on Feb. 12 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Amid the Nebraska noise will be one enormous Iowa contingency taking advantage of the nearby road trip. Freshman Taylor McCabe hails from Fremont — which sits about an hour north of Pinnacle Bank Arena — and her family is coming in bunches.

“I’ve heard about 50 or 60 so far,” McCabe said with a laugh. “I have quite a bit of family and a lot of friends who are going to school (at Nebraska), playing sports there. So it’s pretty cool.

“… We had our state tournament (at Pinnacle Bank Arena). So I’ve played there a few times, hit a couple shots on that court. My senior year, we won a state championship there and I got to cut down the nets at Pinnacle. So that’s a good memory that I’ll always have.”     

"College GameDay" will be a good memory, too, once Feb. 26 rolls around. Bluder said she first got wind the traveling college basketball show might come to Iowa City when ESPN’s Rebecca Lobo was in town for the Maryland victory on Feb. 2.

Bluder told her team the news after Wednesday’s Wisconsin win.

“It’s remarkable for our women’s basketball story here at the University of Iowa,” Bluder said. “For us in recruiting, for us and our fan base, to be the only Big Ten school (to have 'GameDay' in town for a women’s basketball game), it just shows you where our program is right now with the national respect.

“And again, the (home) attendance is such a key part of that. I’m thrilled. I think our team, maybe when it sinks in, they’ll get how big of a deal it is.”

Perhaps it’s a blessing Bluder didn’t have to bring her team down from a "GameDay" high. Consider it another sign of this squad understanding the importance of everything that remains — starting with a tricky trip to Nebraska.     

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.