116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — It's a business trip. And that's not just a lip-service cliche.
There won't be any touristy activities for the Iowa Hawkeyes at the NCAA women's basketball tournament.
It's basketball. It's academia. It's solitude.
Welcome to the bubble.
'You can't walk around and explore outside,' junior post Monika Czinano said. 'We have to keep ways to stay entertained.'
The fifth-seeded Hawkeyes (18-9) face 12-seed Central Michigan (18-8) in a first-round matchup at 11 a.m. Sunday (ESPN) at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
'I'm very happy to be a 5 seed,' Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said, 'I think we're heading in the right direction.'
The Hawkeyes were projected as a 7 seed before rattling off three consecutive double-digit wins at the Big Ten tournament last week. They fell in the final, 104-84, to Maryland, but they still stuck as a 5 when the field was announced Monday.
'Obviously, we knew we were going to make the tournament,' freshman guard Caitlin Clark said. 'But still, I was anxious and nervous.
'This is something you dream about, a cool experience.'
But not as cool as most years.
The Hawkeyes fly to Texas on Wednesday. After their arrival, much of their time will be holed up in a hotel.
'We're kind of stuck,' Bluder said. 'We have to quarantine. Every player has their own room.
'I tell the women, pack all of your underwear and hope for a laundromat. I hope we're there a long time.'
In the Hawkeyes' last NCAA appearance, they advanced all the way to the Elite Eight before being eliminated by Baylor. Last year's tournament was canceled in the opening days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Five current players were active on the 2019 roster, most notably Czinano and senior Alexis Sevillian.
'My message is to really enjoy it, and don't take it for granted,' Czinano said.
Czinano is coming off a record-setting Big Ten tournament; she set league marks in points (107) and field goals (48, in 62 attempts).
'I'm getting good space. Caitlin broke the assist record (with 37 in Indy). That bodes well for me,' Czinano said. 'I'm in a good spot, really confident. A lot of good vibes. The team is reaching a new level as a unit.'
Central Michigan earned an automatic bid by winning the Mid-American Conference tournament. The Chippewas have two 20-point-per-game scorers in guards Micaela Kelly and Molly Davis.
'I really don't know anything about them yet except the Coach Raina connection,' said Clark, referring to Iowa assistant Raina Harmon, who both played and assisted at CMU.
The Iowa-CMU victor will face Kentucky or Idaho State in the second round next Tuesday. The survivor from that bracket of four almost assuredly will meet No. 1 Connecticut in the Sweet 16.
If it's Iowa-UConn, it's a matchup between the nation's top two freshmen — Clark and the Huskies' Paige Bueckers.
'Paige is a really good friend of mine,' Clark said. 'She's a good competitor. That would be a good opportunity, but we have our hands full for two games before that.'
'I know everybody would like a Caitlin-Paige matchup, but that's a long ways off,' Bluder said. 'Central Michigan is going to occupy all of my thoughts.'
Central Michigan info
• Location: Mount Pleasant, Mich.
• Conference: Mid-American
• Record: 18-8 overall, 12-6 MAC
• Bid: Automatic (tournament champion)
• NCAA history: Sixth appearance, third in four years. Reached the Sweet 16 in 2018.
• Coach: Heather Oesterle (2nd year, 41-15). Was a CMU assistant for nine years before taking over in 2019. Before that, she was an assistant with Northern Illinois and Miami (Ohio). Played at Michigan.
• Top players: Senior guard Micaela Kelly (23.4 points per game), ranks seventh in NCAA D-I scoring ... sophomore guard Molly Davis (20.3 ppg).
• Notable: Chippewas have made 260 3-pointers, which ranks third nationally (tied with Arkansas and Iowa State). Iowa is sixth with 258. Iowa assistant coach Raina Harmon played at CMU (2001-04) and was an assistant there (2012-17).
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