2019 NCAA TOURNAMENT

Iowa women's basketball 'didn't come this far to only come this far'

Hawkeyes face Mercer in 2-vs.-15 NCAA first-round matchup

IOWA CITY — The Iowa Hawkeyes huddled under a basket at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday.

It was quiet for a moment, then a voice rang out:

“We didn’t come this far to only come this far.”

Iowa (26-6) — seeded second and ranked No. 8 — faces No. 15-seed Mercer (25-7) in an NCAA women’s basketball first-round game here at 1 p.m. Friday.

If history is an adequate indicator, that voice is correct; the Hawkeyes haven’t come this far to only come this far.

A 15-seed has never beaten a 2-seed in the first round; that’s a record of 0-100 in 25 years of a 64-team tournament.

Kathleen Doyle was informed of that fact Thursday.

“You’d better knock on some wood when you say that,” she said, looking for some sort of lumber in the Iowa locker room.

When the Hawkeyes learned their NCAA assignment Monday, their knowledge on Mercer was minimal. Now, they’re well-versed on the Bears, who have won 17 straight games and ran the table — both in the regular season and the tournament — in the Southern Conference.

“It was easy to get our players’ attention,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. “(Mercer) lost to Florida State by one point; we lost to them by four.

“I guess what I’d say is that they stay in their lane. They know what they’re good at.”

Mercer commits just 11.3 turnovers per game, a rate that ranks fifth nationally.

“They’re very disciplined, very solid,” Iowa’s Tania Davis said. “We’ll try our best to get in their head. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try to get the rebound and run in transition.”

Bluder called KeKe Calloway (17.9 points per game) “a BCS-caliber guard.” Linnea Rosendal is “a great 3-point shooter.” Amanda Thompson (13.1 points, 10.7 rebounds per game) “is the heart and soul of that team.”

Calloway was the SoCon player of the year according to the media; Thompson was the coaches’ selection.

The Bears proved last year that they can compete on this stage. They pushed Georgia to the limit in the first round before falling, 68-63.

“It was a hard-fought battle,” Calloway said. “We’re confident that we can play with anybody. We’ll fight hard, regardless of outcome.”

In addition to the one-point loss to Florida State this season, the Bears were competitive against Georgia, and did notch a win over Florida.

Mercer’s last loss was Jan. 6. Through the 17-game win streak, though, they haven’t seen anything like Megan Gustafson.

ESPN's national player of the year, Gustafson leads Division-I with 28.0 points per game and a 69.6-percent field-goal rate.

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“We’ve scouted really hard, and everybody does something a little different against her,” Mercer Coach Susie Gardner said. “Most of it doesn’t work.

“She averages 28 a game. Who averages 28 a game? I told our post players, she’s going to score, so don’t get your feelings hurt.”

The Hawkeyes are chasing their first NCAA win since their Sweet 16 run of 2015. Since then, it’s been two WNIT berths and a first-round NCAA loss last year to Creighton.

So there’s no taking anything for granted.

“We’re hungry,” Doyle said. “We’re not satisfied.”

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

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