Hawkeyes roll into first Sweet 16 in 19 years
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) By nearly every measure, Lisa Bluder's 15-year tenure at Iowa has been a roaring success.
Bluder has won over 300 games and is a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year. Her Iowa resume includes 14 winning seasons, 44 All-Big Ten honorees and 67 academic all-league picks.
Bluder's only blemish had been 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, including seven straight, had produced zero trips to the Sweet 16. But the third-seeded Hawkeyes (26-7) finally came through for Bluder on Sunday - and their recent play suggests they might be able to keep winning.
Iowa faces No. 2 seed Baylor (32-3) on Friday in Oklahoma City in its first regional semifinal since 1996. The winner gets either top-seeded Notre Dame or Stanford with a trip to the Final Four at stake.
''It was incredibly gratifying, just because we set the goal. Anytime you set a very challenging goal and you reach it, it's special,'' Bluder said. ''Sometimes you set goals and you reach them and ... it's kind of like `OK. We've reached our goal. Good. Let's move on to the next year.' No. This group really flat out thinks we can go on and beat that next school.''
Perhaps the biggest difference this year is that the Hawkeyes have senior point guard Samantha Logic, arguably the best player Bluder has ever coached.
But what truly makes the Hawkeyes so dangerous is their balance.
Iowa has four players that opposing defenses have to account for at all times.
Of course, it all starts with Logic.
She is the only player in NCAA history with at least 1,500 career points, 800 rebounds, 800 assists, and 200 steals. Logic is also third in school history in rebounds despite standing just 5-foot-9, and she's also the nation's active leader in career assists with 884.
''Having her out there as our general, as our floor leader, has been helpful all year. We'll look to her in the tournament to be what she's been all year to us,'' center Bethany Doolittle said.
Logic's versatility has helped make senior guard Melissa Dixon the best 3-point shooter in the country.
Dixon is shooting a staggering 46 percent from long range this season, and her 14.9 points per game trails only sophomore Ally Disterhoft (15.2). Dixon's 3.7 3s per game is the best in the country - and she is so comfortable beyond the arc that her overall shooting percentage is actually a few ticks lower than her percentage on 3s.
Disterhoft, a small forward, has blossomed into the team's most consistent scoring threat.
She has scored at least 10 points in 23 of her 25 games - often by exploiting the space created by Logic and Dixon's presence for uncontested layups.
Doolittle averages 14.1 points and seven boards, and she showed in Sunday's 88-70 win over Miami just how tough Iowa can be to stop.
The Hurricanes focused their defensive efforts on trying to keep Iowa from beating them from the perimeter. That left Doolittle with plenty of room to operate, and she hurt Miami with 22 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and a pair of steals.
''That's the beauty of our team. We have so many threats offensively,'' Dixon said. ''You can take away one thing, but there's going to be four other things wide open.''
With Logic, Dixon and Doolittle set to graduate, now might be best opportunity Iowa has ever had to reach an Elite Eight and, if everything breaks right, maybe even a Final Four.
It won't be easy. Bluder is the only coach in the Oklahoma City Region without at least one appearance in the national semifinals.
But the Hawkeyes aren't acting like a team who thinks its season is about to end.
''We're talking about it like it doesn't have to be over this weekend either. There's no reason it has to be over this weekend. We want to keep this going as long as we can,'' Bluder said. ''Let's not be satisfied.''
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