The Iowa women ended their regular season with an 81-56 beatdown of Illinois on Sunday, their third-straight win. Iowa's certainly entering the tournament portion of their schedule on a very good note. Iowa's best player Sunday was arguably Theairra Taylor, the senior guard who's been on fire the past few games. She led Iowa with 17 points (on 6/10 shooting, 3/6 from deep) and also had 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals. This was just a few nights after her standout performance on Senior Night against Ohio State: 21 points (8/14 shooting, 2/3 from distance), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block. It's great to see a senior playing so well at the end of her career, especially one like Taylor who's endured a nightmarish string of injuries during her Iowa career (THREE (!) ACL injuries). She deserves to end her Iowa career on a high note and so far she's doing just that; hopefully she can keep the hot shooting going for a few more weeks, too.
As a team, Iowa shot extremely well in Sunday's win over the Illini -- 27/48 (56.3%) from the field and 11/27 (40.3%) from 3-point range. Those numbers aren't too shabby -- especially when Illinois shot 21/56 (37.5%) from the field and 7/21 (33.3%) from deep. They even shot 7/14 (50%) from the free throw line. Couple that with 19 Illini turnovers and, well, it's not hard to see why Iowa had an easy time of things in this game. Illinois is just a really, really bad team -- that 9-20 overall record (2-14 in B1G play) is well-deserved.
Iowa's reward for their hot streak to end the season? A tie for 4th place in the league and the 5th seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Both Iowa and Purdue ended the year 11-5 in the Big Ten, but Purdue held the tiebreaker thanks to a head-to-head win. That loss, a 74-73 heartbreaker that Iowa lost thanks to some poor second half play, was Iowa's only loss in their final seven games of the season; unfortunately, it kept them from the #4 seed and a first-round bye.
With the fifth seed, Iowa will play the twelfth seed in round one, which means... a repeat date with the very same Illinois team that they pulverized today. Iowa went 2-0 against Illinois this year (they also beat them 69-55 in Iowa City a few weeks ago) and while you don't want to assume victories, this is as favorable a matchup as Iowa could have hoped for in the first round. The game is on Thursday, March 6 at approximately 1:30 PM CT, with TV coverage from BTN.
If Iowa wins that game, they'll play Purdue on Friday at approximately 1:30 PM CT. Penn State is the other top team on Iowa's side of the bracket (they're the #1 seed, in fact); all told, Iowa has a pretty favorable draw, despite not getting a bye. They play the worst team in the league in round one, a team they've beaten decisively twice. It's also a team they've had a LOT of historical success against:
If they win, they'll get Purdue in the quarterfinals, a team they were thisclose to beating during the regular season. Win that game and they'll likely play Penn State, who Iowa did beat earlier this season (73-70). By comparison, the other side of the bracket featured 2-seed Michigan State (who beat Iowa 88-72) and 3-seed (and longtime nemesis) Nebraska (who beat Iowa 80-67). You can see the full bracket here, including game times and TV information.
Mind you, regardless of what Iowa does in the Big Ten Tournament, they're firmly ensconced in the NCAA Tournament field of 64. With this win, Iowa finished the year with a 23-7 record, 11-5 in the Big Ten, and ranked #25 in the most recent poll. They've had an excellent season so far -- better than almost anyone expected, I think. I certainly didn't expect them to wind up with a better NCAA Tournament seed than the men, but it looks like that might just happen. The most recent bracketology (updated on 2/24) for the women's tournament has them as a 5-seed, playing Chattanooga in the first round. They could see 4-seed NC State for a spot in the Sweet 16 and remember: as an NCAA Tournament host site, Iowa would get to play both of those games in the friendly confines of Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. As things set up right now, this could be one of Iowa's best shots at finally making the Sweet 16 under Lisa Bluder.
Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't give a shoutout to Samantha Logic, who made history in Sunday's win:
Yes, Logic is now Iowa's all-time career assists leader... AS A JUNIOR. She is going to absolutely obliterate that record before her Iowa career is done. Next up? The all-time Big Ten career assist record... but that's gonna be a bit harder to obtain. Logic is at 577 assists; the all-time record is owned by Samantha Prahalis (ugh) of Ohio State, who notched 901 dimes during her Big Ten career. Logic would probably need to set a new Big Ten single season assist record (currently 290, also by Prahalis) to have a shot at the career record. Although nice long runs in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments this year would certainly help her case... and they'd be pretty fun, too.