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Something big and so rare is on the line for Hawkeye women this weekend
Iowa is two wins in Seattle from making a heck of a commotion back in its own state
Iowa is two wins from the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four, and that’s not all.
If the Hawkeyes get past Colorado Friday night and either Louisville or Ole Miss in Seattle Sunday evening, they may very well be the most-popular team in Iowa sports history.
That could include any past football team. It could include the Iowa men’s basketball Final Four team of 1980.
It may not even be close outside the state, and may have happened already.
An average of 1.457 million people watched Iowa’s win over Georgia Sunday on ABC. That is a whopping number for an NCAA women’s second-round game. That was after 560,000 saw the Hawkeyes beat Southeastern Louisiana in a first-rounder on ESPN, a very large weekday afternoon viewership.
The Hawkeyes will bump into men’s basketball Sweet 16 games Friday, but if they beat Colorado they’ll have a Sunday nighttime slot to themselves, basketball-wise. With a Final Four berth on the line, all their previous TV viewerships for Iowa on ABC, FOX and ESPN this season will be dwarfed.
Here in Iowa, how can one say this Hawkeyes team could equal the popularity of, say, the 2015 football Hawks that went 12-0 in the regular season or the 1985 football team that was ranked No. 1 for five weeks? That 1980 men’s Final Four team is mythical in Iowa.
Watch and see. If Lisa Bluder’s team is cutting nets in Seattle Sunday night and heading to Dallas next week for the Final Four, it will cause a commotion that we’ve seldom experienced around here.
This team has already grabbed a lot of hearts for three primary reasons. The first, obviously, is Caitlin Clark. She isn’t a generational star here, as some call her. Generational means someone similar came before her, and someone similar will come along again sometime.
No, she’s not generational. Iowa has never had a Caitlin Clark. How many has the nation seen? How many women’s or men’s players ever have basketball fans in all corners of the nation stopping to watch them without a rooting interest in the game itself?
The second reason is Iowa’s team. It isn’t mechanical. It isn’t hard to watch. It’s quite the opposite.
The Hawkeyes play basketball the way we want to see it played: Quickly, crisply, with a rat-a-tat inside-outside game. The way the team shoots and passes, you’re forced to focus on every moment or you’re likely to miss something entertaining, and often special.
That isn’t just Clark. It’s several players who work so well together and know each other so well.
Thirdly, starting but not ending with Clark, it’s a team loaded with personality. You can’t force it, you can’t fake it. You have it or you don’t. No team sport has charisma come across as much as it does in basketball. The Hawkeyes have it.
I’ve heard from several people who ranged from indifferent to mild in their interest in the women’s game before they started watching Iowa this season. I know a family that, after the great Indiana-Iowa game in Carver, incorporated the Big Ten tournament into an already-planned trip to the Twin Cities later that week.
A married couple in Tiffin decided to use airline and hotel points to make a trip to Seattle affordable in order to be there for the Sweet 16.
“We became season ticket holders five or six years ago during Megan Gustafson’s junior or senior year after going to one game with a big group of friends to just get out of the house during winter,” Lori Flanigan said.
“We were hooked almost immediately and had no idea how much we’d enjoy the games for years. Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, all the coaches, staff, and players are incredible. Their demeanor and behavior are always respectful — they truly are the best coaches and team in the nation.
“We had been season ticket holders for men’s basketball several years before committing to women’s basketball. The vibe is much different for women’s basketball — just more enjoyable and not filled with tension.”
There will be tension for Hawkeye fans in Seattle and everywhere else Friday and perhaps Sunday, but it’s the good kind. That’s because something big is on the line.
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