IOWA CITY — One victory away from the 700th of a coaching career that began at St. Ambrose, Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder figures she should have known better than to present her team with the challenges that await at the season-opening Hawkeye Challenge.
"It must have been a lapse in judgment about a year and a half ago," Bluder said, referencing a tourney field which includes three teams that reached the 2017 NCAA tourney.
Bluder’s 18th season at Iowa begins today with a 5 p.m. game against Quinnipiac, which reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tourney last March during a 29-7 season and returns Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason player of the year Aryn McClure.
On Saturday, the Hawkeyes will host either 16th-ranked Missouri or Western Kentucky in a 4:30 p.m. game.
Coached by one of Bluder’s former players at St. Ambrose, Robin Pingeton, the Tigers finished 22-11 last season and are picked to finish behind South Carolina and Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference.
Western Kentucky finished 27-7 last season and is picked second in Conference USA for the upcoming season.
Returning four starters from a 20-14 team, Bluder believes the Hawkeyes will learn about themselves this weekend.
"Some coaches schedule a lot of cupcakes, and really the only thing you gain from that is a false confidence. These teams, they are capable of exposing some flaws that we have, and this will give us a chance to address (those) early in the year," Bluder said.
"Our philosophy has always been to go against good people early. We welcome the chance to play tough teams in the nonconference part of our schedule, and we’ll continue to do that."
Iowa guard Tania Davis, who returned to action Sunday in an exhibition win over Minnesota State-Moorhead after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in February, welcomes the early-season tests.
"We’re a competitive team, and I love the challenge that’s in front of us," Davis said. "It’s a good place for us to start."
For Bluder, everything starts with Quinnipiac, which beat Marquette and Miami (Fla.) before losing to eventual national champ South Carolina in the third round of the 2017 NCAA tournament.
"We’re looking forward to kicking things off and getting our season started," Bluder said. "Quinnipiac has our attention. That’s where our thoughts are, and then we’ll move on to Missouri or Western Kentucky."
Hawkeye post player Megan Gustafson joins Bluder in chasing a milestone this weekend. She enters the season needing 20 points to become the 35th player in Iowa history to score 1,000 points.