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Iowa opens Big Ten women’s basketball tournament trail against slumping Purdue

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INDIANAPOLIS — When Iowa last faced Purdue, it took a last-ditch sprint to survive.


The Hawkeyes would prefer something a little less stressful Wednesday.


“These are the games that if you look (past) a team, it doesn’t end well,” senior captain Alexis Sevillian said.


Sixth-seeded Iowa (15-8) meets 11-seed Purdue (7-15) in a Big Ten women’s basketball tournament second-round game at approximately 8 p.m, (CT) Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (TV: FS2).


True, the Boilermakers have lost 13 of their last 15 games. But Iowa’s 87-81 regular-season victory Jan. 18 was far from routine.


The Hawkeyes trailed 75-69 with less than five minutes to go, then sprung a 17-2 surge on the Boilermakers.


Caitlin Clark scored 26 points in that game. McKenna Warnock added 19 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the floor, and Monika Czinano tallied 12.


“We were really good the last five minutes,” Warnock said. “We turned it around defensively, and that’s where we need to be, more than the last five minutes.”


If you’re looking ahead, the Iowa-Purdue victor plays 19th-ranked Rutgers (14-3 and seeded third) in the quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Thursday.


The bottom-bracket semifinal is 4:30 p.m. Friday; the championship game is 2 p.m. Saturday.

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“Obviously, it’s going to be a challenging four days,” Clark said. “We have to be mentally prepared.


“If you get on a roll, four games in four days, you can keep the momentum.”


Clark and Czinano were named to the all-Big Ten first team Monday by both the coaches and the media, Clark unanimously. Clark also was selected as the Big Ten freshman of the year after earning league freshman-of-the-week plaudits on 13 occasions throughout the season.


If Clark was disappointed in the player-of-the-year balloting (won by Michigan’s Naz Hillmon), she didn’t let on.


“If it wasn’t me, I’m glad it was Naz,” Clark said of her former Team USA teammate. “She’s a heck of a player. I texted her to congratulate her.”


Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said, “I do think Naz is a great player and a great young woman. If you’re not going to win it, at least it’s to somebody you highly respect.”


But …


“I think as a coach, you’re always a little disappointed for your own players. It’s like being a parent, right?”


Reserve forward Logan Cook, who tested positive for COVID-19 about two weeks ago, will make the trip, but won’t be available to play until Saturday.


Iowa is a sure bet to make the NCAA tournament. The Hawkeyes are probably assured an 8 or 9 seed regardless of how the week pans out. A deep run could vault the Hawkeyes as high as a 6.

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“If we win the tournament, it’s a step in the right direction that we’re a nationally legit team,” Clark said.


Maryland and Indiana have been the top teams in the league all season, and both are ranked in the top 10 nationally. Rutgers is surging, with nine consecutive wins.


Iowa?


“Anything can happen,” Warnock said. “It’s March.”


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