2019 NCAA TOURNAMENT

Iowa women's basketball is '40 minutes away from every kid's dream'

Hawkeyes meets No. 1 Baylor on Monday for a spot in the Final Four

Iowa's Megan Gustafson smiles during a news conference at Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday. The Hawkeyes face No. 1 Baylor in an NCAA women's basketball regional final Monday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa's Megan Gustafson smiles during a news conference at Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday. The Hawkeyes face No. 1 Baylor in an NCAA women's basketball regional final Monday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Lisa Bluder channeled her inner Herb Brooks on Sunday, taking a line from his “Miracle on Ice” pregame speech.

“If we play (Baylor) 10 times, maybe they win nine,” said Bluder, women’s basketball coach at the University of Iowa. “But maybe that one time is (Monday).”

Miracle on Hardwood? We’ll find out.

Eighth-ranked Iowa (29-6) pursues its first Final Four appearance in 26 years Monday night; the Hawkeyes will be decided underdogs against No. 1 Baylor (34-1).

Tipoff is 6 p.m. CT at Greensboro Coliseum (ESPN2), and Megan Gustafson can’t wait.

“It would be nice to just play right now,” she said. “I’d do it right now.”

The ESPN national player of the year, Gustafson (27.9 points and 13.5 points per game, 70.1% field-goal accuracy) faces her toughest test of the season. Baylor’s post duo of Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox stand 6-foot-7 and 6-4, respectively.

Opponents shoot 31.4 percent against the Lady Bears, who allow 54.7 points per contest.

“Their defense is remarkable,” Bluder said. “I mean, what they are holding people to, that’s absolutely incredible.”

The Lady Bears jumped all over No. 18 South Carolina in the regional semifinals Saturday, leading 49-23 at halftime and coasting home, 93-68, for their 26th consecutive victory.

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Iowa handled No. 10 North Carolina State, 79-61.

This will be the second meeting between these programs, both in the postseason. Baylor prevailed in the 2015 Sweet 16, 81-66.

Kim Mulkey’s Baylor teams have reached this round eight of the last 10 years.

“That’s no advantage,” Mulkey said. “I’m not going to pass or shoot. Those kids have to go out there on the floor, and they have to do it, and it’s an exciting time for all those kids on both teams, and it should be.

“(Gustafson is) the national player of the year. We’ve got our hands full. But she isn’t doing it be herself. She has plenty of help around her.”

Mulkey took exception Sunday with an ESPN reporter, who — according to her — had been harping on Brown’s lack of mobility.

“I’m not sure where this mobility problem people keep bringing up comes from. Kalani Brown at her size can run foul line to foul line in my opinion as well as any big girl in the game.

“All I know is the kid’s a special player and she has her hands full against (Gustafson, who) is your opinion, the best player in the country, and she’s pretty good.

“I just don’t want Kalani to have nightmares all night.”

Brown said, “I’ll try to move my feet and stay with (Gustafson).”

Baylor outrebounds its opponents by 17.8 boards per game. That’s just one of many numbers stacked against the Hawkeyes.

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One website (5Dimes.eu) established Baylor as a 14.5-point favorite. Another (fivethirtyeight.com) gives Iowa a 9-percent chance to win.

“People aren’t going to be betting on us, but we’re going to be betting on ourselves,” Kathleen Doyle said.

The Hawkeyes are fine with their role.

“I think we’re better as an underdog,” Bluder said. “We’re better when we have something to prove. I know my team won’t back down to anybody. It’s every kid’s dream to play in the Final Four, right? I mean, we are 40 minutes away from every kid’s dream.”

Less than two weeks ago, the only mark against Gustafson’s memorable career was a lack of postseason success. The Hawkeyes hadn’t won an NCAA game in her career.

“Now we’re in the Elite Eight,” Gustafson said. “We’re on the biggest stage, and we’re going to give it our all.”

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

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