2019 NCAA TOURNAMENT

Iowa Hawkeyes avoided spoilers after NCAA Tournament bracket was leaked

No. 2-seed Iowa hosts No. 15-seed Mercer in first round Friday

Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder reacts after the Big Ten Conference tournament championship trophy is unveiled during Monday’s celebration at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes are a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, and will play Mercer in the first round at 1 p.m. Friday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder reacts after the Big Ten Conference tournament championship trophy is unveiled during Monday’s celebration at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes are a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, and will play Mercer in the first round at 1 p.m. Friday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The mandate came from Hannah Stewart, via group text:

Stay off your phones. The brackets have been leaked.

“We had just gotten done with practice, and we were getting dolled up for the (NCAA Tournament) Selection Show,” Stewart said. “(Director of operations Kathryn Reynolds) called, and told me to let the team know we were going to meet in the locker room.”

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If you don't like waiting until Monday night for the NCAA women's basketball tournament selection show, 2019 is your year.

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ESPN’s gaffe Monday moved the show up two hours, to 4 p.m. Instead of watching on the Carver-Hawkeye Arena floor with the 1,000 fans or so, the Hawkeyes watched it on their own in the locker room, then joined the fans at 5 p.m. in celebration of their Big Ten tournament title.

“That was a shame,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. “It made it a little anticlimactic. It’s really unfortunate, and I hope it doesn’t happen again.”

Still, ESPN’s goof didn’t dampen the Hawkeyes’ spirits. They earned a No. 2 seed for the tournament, the highest in Bluder’s 19 years at Iowa.

The Hawkeyes (26-6) face 15-seed Mercer (25-7) at 1 p.m. Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (ESPN2).

“I don’t know much about (the Bears),” Tania Davis said. “We’re definitely going to be prepared well.”

Mercer won the Southern Conference tournament championship and carries a 17-game winning streak. The Hawkeyes and the Bears have never met.

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The delicious aspect of the Iowa City subregion is the other first-round game. No. 7-seed Missouri (23-10) meets 10-seed Drake (27-6) at approximately 3:30 p.m. Friday.

Missouri is coached by Robin (Becker) Pingeton, formerly of Cedar Rapids Jefferson and a former player of Bluder’s at St. Ambrose. Drake is coached by Jennie (Lillis) Baranczyk, another former Bluder player.

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A No. 15-seed has never won a game in the NCAA women's basketball tournament. The Mercer Bears will try to become the first when they take on No. 2-seed Iowa at 1 p.m. Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

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“Our players respect Missouri, and they respect Drake,” Bluder said. “If we get to the second round, we know it’s going to be a challenge.”

Now, the trick is to summon respect for Mercer.

“I’m not going to fool the kids; they’re a 15 seed for a reason,” Bluder said. “We need to show some highlights and good film of them. On the other hand, I want us to have confidence and embrace the 2 seed.”

Iowa’s last extended NCAA run came in 2015, when it reached the Sweet 16. No current players were on that team.

“This is very important,” all-American Megan Gustafson said. “It’s one thing to win in the non-conference, the Big Ten, the Big Ten tournament. It’s another to win in the postseason.”

The Hawkeyes are 15-0 at Carver this season.

NCAA brackets were leaked by ESPN mid-afternoon Monday.

“We deeply regret the error and extend our apology to the NCAA and the women’s basketball community,” ESPN said in a statement. “We will conduct a thorough review of our process to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.”

The second round is Sunday at a time to be determined. The survivor from Iowa City advances to the Sweet 16 at Greensboro, N.C.

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Baylor is the top seed at Greensboro, and No. 1 overall. North Carolina State and South Carolina are seeded third and fourth in Greensboro.

Game dates in Greensboro are March 30 and April 1. The Final Four — at Tampa, Fla. — is April 5-7.

Iowa will be without freshman reserve Logan Cook (lower-leg injury) for its tournament run.

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

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