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Southeastern Louisiana has a lot on its plate when it tackles No. 3 Iowa in the NCAA tournament
At Carver, the NCAA-rookie Lions will face an elite player, a high-scoring offensive machine, a tough 2-vs.-15 history and a crowd like nothing it has experienced all season
As a 10-minute telephone Q&A session wound down Monday afternoon, Ayla Guzzardo had a question of her own:
“How’s the weather up there?”
So Southeastern Louisiana will pack some winter gear for its trip to Iowa City this weekend. The Lions also will haul along some defense.
A heavy underdog, 15-seed Southeastern (21-9) makes its NCAA women’s basketball tournament debut Friday against 2-seed, third-ranked Iowa (26-6).
Tipoff is 3 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, shortly after the other first-round game — 7-seed Florida State (23-9) vs. 10-seed Georgia (21-11) — concludes.
“There’s a lot of joy here,” said Guzzardo, in her sixth year as the Lions’ head coach. “We’re really busy, but it’s a good busy.”
Guzzardo has elevated the Lions’ program, which has assembled three consecutive winning seasons. This, though, was their breakthrough.
Southeastern earned an automatic bid by beating Lamar for the Southland Conference tournament title.
The Lions’ identity? That’s easy.
They rank 13th in the nation in scoring defense at 54.5 points per game allowed.
“We have a very defensive mindset,” Guzzardo said. “From perimeter to post, we try to pick up 94 feet, and make everything tough.
“That’s the type of kids we recruit.”
Now, how tough can the Lions make it for the Hawkeyes? Iowa is No. 1 nationally in scoring at 87.5 points per game.
“When you talk about Iowa, you can’t go without talking about Caitlin Clark,” Guzzardo said. “The things she can do with the basketball ... her ability to see the whole court. Her range is unbelievable.”
The Lions are opposing Clark. And history. Since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1994, 15-seeds are 0-112 against 2-seeds.
“We’ve got to lock in and play the type of defense we’re capable of,” Guzzardo said. “On offense, we’re looking for layups and free throws. We’ve got to take advantage of opportunities when they’re there.”
Junior guard Hailey Giaratano was a second-team all-Southland selection. She averages a team-best 12.4 points per game; Alexius Horne, another junior guard, is next at 12.0 ppg.
At a sold-out Carver, the Lions will be facing a crowd of 14,382. Only once — at LSU on Nov. 29 — have they played in front of more than 2,000 people.
Southeastern’s average home attendance this season was 440.
“You talk about atmosphere, this is the kind of thing you want to be a part of,” Guzzardo said. “They’ll never forget this.”