LOS ANGELES — Shortly after landing in southern California and settling in at their hotel Thursday, Chase Coley and the Iowa Hawkeyes took off.
They went to visit the famous Santa Monica pier and explore parts of Los Angeles, something most of the team from the Midwest had never experienced.
“We went on a few of the rides and looked at a some of the shops, and the coaches took and treated us to a delicious dinner, which I think we were all very excited about,” Coley said. “I had a lot of fun yesterday, just spending time with my teammates and being in a cool place like this.”
The time for that, though, is over. No. 6-seed Iowa (24-7) made that clear Friday at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, where the Hawkeyes will take on No. 11-seed Creighton (18-12) Saturday at 5 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
For most of Iowa’s roster — including Iowa star Megan Gustafson — this will mark their first trip to the NCAA Tournament. But the All-American said she isn’t nervous. She’s been waiting for this moment since she first started playing college basketball. The whole team has.
“We’re really focused. We really think we can make a big run here, and that’s what is really exciting,” Gustafson said. “It’s been a lot of fun to be able to come here and prepare and just have some fun with my teammates, but again it’s a business trip. We’re here to win games, and that’s what we’re going to put our heart and soul into.”
The Bluejays just snuck into the NCAA Tournament, earning one of the final four at-large bids. Yet Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder knows she can’t overlook them in Los Angeles.
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More than 40 percent of Creighton’s shot attempts this season have come from behind the arc — and it’s hit nearly 38 percent of them. If Iowa doesn’t take away the long ball on Saturday, Bluder said, it could be in trouble.
“I see excellent 3-point shooters (in Creighton),” Bluder said. “I really consider them the top 3-point shooting team in America. Not only that, they have incredible depth coming off the bench that can also shoot the 3. so to me that’s something we really have to focus on is protecting the 3-point line.”
Even though it’ll be a defensive adjustment, it’s not one the Hawkeyes haven’t dealt with before. Iowa and Creighton faced off in a closed scrimmage before the season started in Des Moines — as they have for the past eight seasons — so they have an idea of what to expect come Saturday.
“I think it’s definitely an advantage, and it’s kind of a different situation than a lot of teams,” Hannah Stewart said. “We know a little more personnel-wise of each other, obviously, but I think both teams can attest that we’re pretty different from the beginning of the year.”
If it’s an advantage for Iowa, though, it’s an advantage for Creighton.
Even though he’s seen them in action already, Bluejays Coach Jim Flanery said they have to find the right balance in stopping Gustafson — who leads the nation averaging 25.6 points per game — and locking down the rest of the Iowa roster.
“Well, what, do you guys have any ideas?” Flanery asked with a laugh when questioned on how to stop Gustafson.
“Just looking at her numbers, she actually averages more in their losses than she does in their wins. You don’t want to give some other kids too many opportunities to make threes or make plays.”