IOWA CITY — Iowa’s two-year absence from the NCAA women’s basketball tournament ended Monday with an irony-filled opportunity.
The Hawkeyes will face Creighton, a team Iowa scrimmaged before the start of its 24-7 season, in an opening-round game in Los Angeles on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for around 5 p.m.
“It’s a little ironic that we’re three hours apart from each other and we’re going all the way to Los Angeles to play, but we’re not complaining,’’ Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said.
“We’re back where we belong, back in the big dance. We expect to be in this tournament every year and after missing out, we look forward to the opportunity.’’
Iowa will be making its 25th appearance in the NCAA tourney and its 13th in 18 seasons under Bluder. The Hawkeyes played in the WNIT the past two years, but Bluder said this season’s goal since day one has been a return to the NCAA field.
“We appreciate the opportunities that we’ve had, but being in the NCAA tourney on a regular basis is what our program is about.’’
The Hawkeyes, who had qualified for the 64-team NCAA tourney in eight straight years before missing out the past two, are the sixth seed in a region which will play its Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in Kansas City.
UCLA, the region’s third seed, matches Iowa's 24-7 record and is the host of the opening-round games, facing 14th-seeded American (26-6) in its opener. The winner advances to face either the Hawkeyes or Bluejays at a time to be determined on Monday.
An 11 seed, Creighton brings an 18-12 record into the tournament and finished fourth in the Big East this season.
Former West Des Moines Dowling standout Audrey Faber leads four Bluejays who average in double figure. The 6-foot-2 forward averages 14.8 points per game.
Creighton and Iowa have three common opponents this season.
Both beat Drake and Northern Iowa, teams the Bluejays needed overtime to beat, while Creighton won a 15-point decision over a Nebraska team which defeated Iowa twice.
Iowa and Creighton last met in a game during the 2006-07 regular season but have held several closed-door preseason scrimmages against each other in recent years, giving the Hawkeyes a little understanding of what they’re getting into this weekend.
Bluder compared the Bluejays’ offense to Drake, while Hawkeye center Megan Gustafson remembers a guard-oriented attack.
“We’re going to have to be able to help out defensively on the perimeter,’’ Gustafson said. “I remember that they’re a good team, somebody that will have our respect because we know what they can do.’’
At least one Hawkeye knows that very well.
Sophomore guard Makenzie Meyer spent last Friday night shooting around with Creighton senior Myah Mellman and other family members at their old high school gym in Mason City.
“It was just like we used to do in high school, just having fun, getting some shots in,’’ Meyer said. “I told her after we finished that maybe I’d see her in the NCAA tourney. It’s funny how things work out.’’
Funny, in an ironic kind of way.