The tone around Iowa's Final Four chances has changed. Hawkeyes are giving it little attention.
SEATTLE — There was no need for a refocusing meeting, no point to address what was obvious. Iowa women’s basketball saw the upsets around them and knows the noise has intensified regarding their Final Four chances. There’s been quite the national tone change even since Selection Sunday.
A team with fewer battle wounds than this one might view the Seattle 4 bracket opening up for the Hawkeyes as a drastic development. But these are precisely the situations where Iowa’s experience and maturity organically prove most valuable.
Beginning with Friday’s 6:30 p.m. Sweet 16 showdown against 6-seed Colorado at Climate Pledge Arena, the 2-seed Hawkeyes enter the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend with the same approach that got them to this spot in the first place.
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Every opponent still standing deserves respect. No team, no matter the seed, is fully upset-proof. The Hawkeyes didn’t need multiple bracket disruptions to hammer those points home.
“Being able to have this group that’s been through this quite a few times with each other is super important,” Iowa standout Caitlin Clark said. “We understand the circumstances.
“But at this point, it doesn’t really matter what’s next to your name. Anybody can be beat. Anyone can win. We weren’t preparing to play the higher seed or the lower seed (in Seattle) because we know anyone can be beat. Just coming into this with the same mindset and being who we are is going to carry us a long way.”
It took less than 48 hours after Sunday’s second-round win over Georgia for March Madness to chew up the Seattle 4 Regional and spit out something completely different. With top-seeded Stanford, 3-seed Duke and 4-seed Texas all falling on their home floors, Iowa immediately rose to the top of the bracket pile — with Colorado and either 5-seed Louisville or 8-seed Ole Miss to now go through.
Positive noise, however, can sometimes be harder to block out than negative chatter. National women’s basketball prognosticators and those who run the sports betting show in Las Vegas expect the Hawkeyes to advance to Dallas for their first Final Four appearance in 30 years. Having the path seemingly well-lit for a monumental moment could even be more distracting for a program that traditionally thrives in the underdog role.
“But we don’t focus on outside opinions we really do not,” fifth-year guard Kate Martin said. “Coach (Lisa) Bluder talks about it all year, everybody’s going to have an opinion — and we just don’t care. We care about the 15 girls in our locker room and the coaches and everyone else who’s in our locker room. That’s our circle, and anyone who has opinions outside of that, it doesn’t phase us.
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“We love our fans. We love everybody who cares about us. But sometimes, the really good stuff can be just as bad as the negative. If you’re not going to look at the negative stuff, don’t look at all the good too because that can blow your head up.”
It’s not as if last season’s pain generated by a massive upset completely vanishes now that Iowa has advanced past the second round, either.
These Hawkeyes were the Stanford, Duke and Texas of the 2022 tournament, stunned on their home floor and forced to pick up the pieces. One could argue missing out on this Final Four opportunity would be just as, if not more, painful than last year's Creighton loss given that it would take another decent upset to send the Hawkeyes home.
“I truly believe we’ve had all these different losses, different games, different experiences for so many reasons and to bring us to this point,” senior McKenna Warnock said. “And it’s really exciting actually, to be able to get to this point and know we have the confidence in ourselves to get further from here.”
Just about every Iowa player said she was watching Sunday and Monday nights when the chaos ensued. It’s good for the women’s game, they echoed — that shocking upsets appearing more often increases the excitement and intensity that’s already flowing this time of year. No one was ducking the added attention those results now put on the Hawkeyes.
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That’s because top to bottom, Iowa knows what it has in Seattle. There’s no need to put any added pressure on the moment, now that the Final Four seems much more plausible.
Should the Hawkeyes make that a reality, their veteran maturity will have delivered once again.
Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.