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Iowa Women's Basketball

Mission for Iowa women's basketball: Cut down some nets

Hawkeyes open Big Ten tournament Friday vs. Indiana

Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder and her daughter Emma cut down one of the nets to celebrate their Sweet 16 appearance in 2015. Bluder and the Hawkeyes hope to snip some more nylon at the Big Ten tournament this weekend. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder and her daughter Emma cut down one of the nets to celebrate their Sweet 16 appearance in 2015. Bluder and the Hawkeyes hope to snip some more nylon at the Big Ten tournament this weekend. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Before practice ended Tuesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the ladder and scissors came out.

It was time for some celebration simulation.

“This team has the potential to cut down a net,” Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder said Thursday during a teleconference. “I wanted them to gain that experience, put that visual out there.”

So there the Hawkeyes were, taking turns climbing the ladder, snipping the net and stepping back down, hoping it’s a prelude to the real thing Sunday night.

No. 10 Iowa (23-6) begins Big Ten tournament play Friday, facing Indiana (20-11) in a quarterfinal at 5:30 p.m. (Iowa time) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis.

The tournament champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but that point is moot to the Hawkeyes, who have wrapped up a bid and are a virtual lock to host the first two rounds.

As of Monday, they were projected as a No. 2 NCAA seed.

Bluder isn’t thinking about NCAA seeds or Selection Monday or any of that stuff now.

“We want to win a Big Ten championship,” she said. “We want to cut down a net.”

The last time scissors met nylon for real was in 2015, when the Hawkeyes cut down the nets at Carver-Hawkeye Arena after beating Miami (Fla.) to earn a Sweet 16 berth.

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Iowa last claimed a Big Ten tournament title in 2001, Bluder’s first season in Iowa City. That was back when the Big Ten was an 11-team league, long before Maryland started monopolizing everything.

The Hawkeyes earned the No. 2 Big Ten seed by finishing 14-4 in league play. That matches the 2014-15 squad as the best conference record in Bluder’s tenure.

Iowa’s defensive average of 67.6 points per game is its best since 2012-13. The Hawkeyes gave up 58 and 50 in their last two regular-season games.

“I like our defensive energy,” Bluder said. “It’s hard to compare our defense with other teams; a lot depends on matchups.

“But I will say this — Megan (Gustafson)’s defensive rebounding average sure helps. The way she cleans the boards, that’s the way you finish a defensive possession.”

Gustafson is the Big Ten player of the year and is a legitimate candidate for national player-of-the-year honors.

While Iowa is an NCAA shoo-in, Indiana is on the bubble, likely needing to make a splash this weekend. Knocking off the Hawkeyes would be a good start.

“They need a signature win,” Bluder said. “The more wins they get, the more opportunity they have to get off the bubble.

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“Sometimes, that’s good because they’re hungry. Sometimes it’s bad because they play with pressure.”

Indiana earned a date with the Hawkeyes with a 66-58 second-round win over Minnesota on Thursday.

The Hoosiers tripped Iowa, 75-73, Feb. 17 in a verdict that ultimately cost the Hawkeyes a share of the regular-season championship.

“They’re the only team (in the Big Ten) that we haven’t beaten this season,” Bluder said. “It would be nice to give every Big Ten team a defeat.”

If the Hawkeyes win Friday, they will advance to the semifinal round and will play at 6:30 p.m. (Iowa time) Saturday. The championship game is 5 p.m. Sunday.

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

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