In what coaches are quick to label a parity-filled, wide-open Big Ten women’s basketball tournament, Iowa knows one thing about its first opponent.
Whoever wins Thursday’s second-round game between Minnesota and Indiana will bring some momentum into Friday’s quarterfinal match-up against the second-seeded Hawkeyes.
The seventh-seeded Gophers followed a 2-7 start in Big Ten play with a 7-2 finish and will take a 20-9 record into their tourney opener against a 10th-seeded Hoosiers team that denied Iowa a share of the Big Ten title with an upset two weeks ago that gives Indiana a 19-11 record when it takes the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“We’re going to have our hands full with either of them,’’ Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “With Minnesota, Kenisha Bell is one of the best players in the conference and with Indiana, we just saw what they are capable of doing.’’
The Hoosiers overcame a 14-point deficit in the second half to beat the Hawkeyes 75-73 on Feb. 21, a loss which left Iowa one game behind a top-seeded Maryland team it held a tiebreaker against when the Big Ten seeding dust settled Sunday.
“That’s still fresh in our minds,’’ Bluder said. “I don’t think we would mind getting another crack at Indiana. We felt we let that one get away. But either way, we’ll be facing a good team.’’
As the Big Ten tourney gets underway today with a pair of games, the Hawkeyes will take today off before practicing Thursday and traveling to Indianapolis in time to catch a glimpse of the match-up between the Golden Gophers and Hoosiers.
Beyond Indiana’s recent win over Iowa, the Hawkeyes have a tourney history against Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers knocked Iowa out of the Big Ten quarterfinals a year ago 90-89 despite a 48-point performance from Megan Gustafson.
“That seems like ancient history now, but I’m sure it’s in the back of the mind somewhere, too,’’ Bluder said.
Minnesota’s 2-7 league start this season includes an 81-63 loss to Iowa in a game where the Hawkeyes overcame an eight-point deficit to win on the road.
First-year coach Lindsay Whalen said her team has grown since that Jan. 14 game.
“They didn’t quit,’’ Whalen said. “They could have folded the tent and played out the season. That would have been the easy thing to do, but they kept fighting.’’
Minnesota enters the tourney after bouncing back from consecutive road losses to Maryland and Rutgers with an 82-63 win over Michigan State on Sunday.
The Hoosiers have some momentum as well, following up their win over the Hawkeyes with a 73-51 win over Purdue on Sunday.
“Hopefully we have some momentum right now,’’ Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “I think the field is wide open. The parity in this league has been incredible.’’
Moren isn’t the only coach expressing those sentiments.
“It’s anybody’s game right now. There’s just a lot of balance,’’ said Purdue coach Sharon Versyp, whose 11th-seeded team faces 14th-seeded Illinois in a 3 p.m. opening-round game today.
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico points out that ninth-seeded Michigan State handed sixth-ranked Oregon one of its three losses this season and Maryland coach Brenda Frese mentions that her top-seeded team was pushed late into a nine-point win over the Fighting Illini last Saturday.
“There aren’t any easy marks in this conference right now,’’ Frese said. “I think that has helped all of us but it should make for an interesting tournament. Whoever wins it on Sunday night will have earned it.’’
Bluder said Iowa isn’t getting ahead of itself, focusing only on its quarterfinal game.
The 10th-ranked Hawkeyes this week have been sticking with the basics while preparing for a tournament it last won in 2001.
“We can’t afford careless turnovers and we need to value the ball,’’ Bluder said. “And, it comes down to who’s putting the ball in the hole this time of year.’’