Iowa hasn’t been to a Final Four in 30 years. There’s been some great teams, but only one Elite Eight appearance since. But this year’s bunch has its best shot to get back there since 1993.
The key to unlocking some bracket magic? Quite the opposite — playing the same way that got Iowa as high as the No. 2 ranking in the AP Top 25 and a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament.
“Sometimes you need a little luck,” Caitlin Clark admitted. “But I think at the same time just understanding we need to be who we are — be what we’ve been all year long. That’s what’s brought us really good things. That’s what’s brought us wins over top five teams. That’s brought us the Big Ten championship. We don’t need to be anybody other than ourselves. Just follow your teammates, your coaches find confidence from them and just be ourselves.”
Iowa doesn’t need to transform from Clark Kent into Superman, they’ve been wearing a cape all season. They just need to keep the garment on. Assistant coach Jan Jensen pointed out that tensity has been one of the only things that’s hindered the Hawks all year.
“The games we’ve lost, we got a little tight,” Jensen said. “We weren’t as prepared as coaches — much has been made of that ‘box and one’ at Maryland. But I think if we’re just us and we just stay the course and enjoy the moment, I like our chances.”
Lisa Bluder’s been coaching Iowa for 23 years. Just once has she missed both the WNIT and the NCAA tournaments. Her message to the team: Just be excited you’re here — and you’re at home.
“We’re enjoying the experience,” Bluder said. “We’re excited to play. I think what I see is more excitement to get back out on the court again — I see more of an excitement than a tightness.”
That 96-68 road loss to the Terrapins in February coach Jensen referred to was by far the worst loss of the season. But, Iowa exorcised their D.C. demons by knocking out their Big Ten rival in the conference semifinals. Obviously, whatever Iowa’s done to get to this point has worked.
“We got here being exactly who we were playing Iowa basketball, we don’t have to do anything else to make a run deep in this tournament,” senior forward McKenna Warnock said. “We’ve been here before — we won last year’s regular season and [tournament] championship and we know that we can’t have our confidence too high, but of course not too low, either.”
The Hawkeyes, themselves or not, are a sizable 30.5 point favorite over Southeastern Louisiana on Friday. For context’s sake, that spread is 7.5 points more than last year’s #2 vs #15 matchup at Carver-Hawkeye: When Iowa throttled (my beloved alma mater) Illinois State.
I’ll toss another Illinois sports reference out there to those still reading. The gameplan this week in Iowa City: Channel your inner Matt Nagy, and just “Be You”.
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