Something about the NCAA women's basketball tournament brings out the best in Iowa’s opening-round opponent.
Marist brings a track record of success to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, where the Hawkeyes host the Red Foxes in a 7 p.m. game.
Ask Ohio State. Ask DePaul. Ask Iowa State. Ask Gonzaga.
Marist has beaten them all in the opening round of NCAA play since 2007, creating more than a handful of problems with a balanced approach to offense and a defense which takes teams out of their comfort zone.
It’s a formula that has worked throughout the 12 seasons Brian Giorgis has coached at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., winning nine straight conference championships.
His 304-86 record there — a .778 winning percentage surpassed only by Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and Baylor’s Kim Mulkey at the Division-I level — includes a Sweet 16 appearance in 2007 following wins over the fourth-seeded Buckeyes and fifth-seeded Middle Tennessee State.
The Red Foxes followed that by ousting DePaul in 2008, Iowa State in 2011 and Gonzaga two years ago before falling to Michigan State 55-47 in the opening round of the NCAA tourney last season.
“When your name comes up and Marist comes up right after it, you think you pulled the unlucky number because they are a very good team," Spartans coach Suzy Merchant said. “The way they play makes it really difficult to get victories."
This season, Marist is 27-6 and its record includes a 76-69 win over Oklahoma and a 62-59 loss at Ohio State, where the Buckeyes overcame a 10-point second-half deficit to win.
“They make you work for everything you get and on the other side of the ball, they have a tremendously balanced attack," Merchant said. “The motion they run on offense is challenging to guard because they will create mismatches and they know how to take advantage of them."
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder believes Marist’s track record will focus her team’s attention on its first-round foe and not on a potential second-round contest with third-seeded Louisville, which plays Idaho at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in Iowa City.
“We’re not in a position to get ahead of ourselves," Bluder said. “We have to bring out best because that is what this time of year is about."
Giorgis believes his 11th-seeded Red Foxes face a difficult challenge against sixth-seeded Iowa (26-8), but that’s nothing new.
“We’re the underdog and we’re playing on their home floor," he said, adding, “but we relish that role."