Iowa Women's Basketball

Iowa women's basketball returns to NCAA, heads to L.A.

Hawkeyes will face Creighton in Round 1 at 5 p.m. Saturday

The Iowa women's basketball team reacts to their seeding in the NCAA tournament while watching the selection show at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Monday. The Hawkeyes (24-7) will face Creighton (18-12) in the first round at 5 p.m. (Iowa time) Saturday at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Iowa women's basketball team reacts to their seeding in the NCAA tournament while watching the selection show at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Monday. The Hawkeyes (24-7) will face Creighton (18-12) in the first round at 5 p.m. (Iowa time) Saturday at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — For the past few years, they’ve been scrimmage sisters.

Saturday afternoon, the stakes will be real for Iowa and Creighton.

The Hawkeyes (24-7) will face the Bluejays (18-12) in a first-round NCAA women’s basketball tournament game at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. Tipoff is 5 p.m. (Iowa time).

“Making the NCAA, that’s been our goal,” junior all-American Megan Gustafson said Monday evening at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, shortly after the pairings were revealed. “Now, our new goal is to make some noise.”

The Hawkeyes will be making their 25th NCAA appearance, their 13th under Coach Lisa Bluder. They reached the Sweet 16 in their last NCAA run, in 2015, before settling for the WNIT in 2016 and 2017.

“It’s a really good feeling to be back in The Dance,” Bluder said. “That’s where we want to be every year.”

Senior Chase Coley is the lone Hawkeye with NCAA experience. Coley was a backup in the post to Bethany Doolittle in 2015. She played in three NCAA games that year as a freshman, averaging 10 points.

Carly Mohns was on the roster that year, but did not play in the NCAA.

Coley’s advice to the NCAA rookies?

“Go out and have fun. Leave it all on the court,” she said. “You have this chance once a year. This is my last opportunity. I’m going to give it everything I have.”

Coley has been to Los Angeles several times. Gustafson has never been west of the Rockies, and Cedar Rapids native Amanda Ollinger has never been to southern California.

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“I’m excited to go to L.A.,” Ollinger said. “I’ve been looking forward to making an NCAA ever since I committed. This is huge.”

Iowa is the No. 6 seed in the Kansas City region; Creighton is seeded 11th.

Third-seed (and ninth-ranked) UCLA (24-7) meets 14-seed American University (26-6) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday; winners will play Monday for spot in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City.

Iowa leads the all-time series with Creighton, 7-5. The teams haven’t played a game that counted since 2006 (a 75-60 Iowa win in Omaha), but they have gotten together for closed scrimmages the last few years.

“They’re a good team,” Coley said. “They have good guards.”

Creighton is led by junior Audrey Faber, formerly of West Des Moines Dowling, who averages 14.8 points per game.

Iowa appears to have a big advantage inside, led by Gustafson, the nation’s scoring leader.

“What we’ve done so far, it’s great, but now it’s not enough,” Gustafson said. “I’m a junior now. I only have one year left. I’m going to put my heart and soul into this.

“It’s cool to be able to play on the national stage. People are going to learn who Iowa is.”

Iowa entered Monday with an RPI of 22 and a strength of schedule of 28. The Hawkeyes have won eight of their last nine games and finished in a third-place tie in the Big Ten.

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A member of the Missouri Valley Conference not so long ago, Creighton now is affiliated with the Big East. The Bluejays faced two of their MVC rivals this season, outlasting UNI in two overtimes and Drake in four.

Elsewhere, MVC champion Drake (26-7) was an automatic qualifier and earned a 13 seed in the Spokane Region. The Bulldogs face 4-seed Texas A&M (24-9) in the first round at 1:30 Friday afternoon at College Station, Texas.

Drake has won 21 consecutive games.

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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