DUBUQUE — The Loras women’s basketball team has dug itself out of quite a hole in the Iowa Conference.
After dropping five of their first six conference games, the Duhawks won seven of 10 and earned the four seed for the conference tournament.
Loras (16-9, 8-8 IIAC) hosts fifth-seeded Buena Vista (13-12, 8-8) in a first-round game Tuesday at 7.
“We’re certainly playing better basketball down the stretch,” Loras Coach Justin Heinzen said. “I think we’re getting a little bit more comfortable with where our strengths are, mainly offensively.”
The Duhawks had to adjust the lineup after three games due to the loss of former Edgewood-Colesburg and Upper Iowa guard Kari Fitzpatrick, who suffered a torn ACL.
Former Cedar Rapids Prairie and Kirkwood player Cyerra Hutchins enters the tournament on a hot streak with four double-figure scoring efforts in five games since her return to the lineup (illness).
“She has been playing at an all-conference level,” Heinzen said. “She does a lot of different things and plays with a great energy and is a key piece for us because she is a long defender that can guard a post or a guard. One that wears her heart on her sleeve, for sure.”
This season has seen a large adjustment for Hutchins. After playing primarily as a shooting guard for Prairie and Kirkwood, the 5-foot-8 senior has moved inside to a forward position. Hutchins ranks third in the IIAC with 7.7 rebounds per game.
“The change to that has been a little difficult for me, but I think I’m really catching on these past couple of games,” Hutchins said. “Putting it up against the post players and finding the open person and really getting in there to rebound. Trying to figure out how to get around someone who is a lot taller than me or figuring out ways to bring the post player out and then taking them one on one because of my quickness, then using it that way.”
Hutchins and fellow senior Addie Oberman, who is second on the team in scoring at 11.8 points per contest, were teammates at Kirkwood. After Oberman returned from her Loras visit, her glowing reviews inspired Hutchins to schedule her own trip.
“Right as I walked on campus, I felt like I was at Kirkwood again,” Hutchins said. “I just knew it was home here.”
Freshman Marissa Schroeder leads the Duhawks in scoring at 12.7 points per game, while the defensive stalwart is senior Miranda Chapman. No Loras player averages more minutes on the floor than the Mount Vernon graduate.
“Miranda has been our rock for a couple of years now,” Heinzen said. “Our best defensive player and a player that is really hard to take off the floor. … She is so efficient with what she does and how she guards. She’s been a pretty valuable piece to us and probably the glue to our team.”
In the other first-round matchup, Coe (14-11, 11-5) hosts Simpson (13-12, 7-9). The winner visits Luther (18-9, 12-4) on Thursday. The Loras-Buena Vista victor earns a Thursday date at undefeated and second-ranked Wartburg (25-0, 16-0).
The semifinal winners meet Saturday for the title and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
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