Womens Basketball: Creighton vs Iowa - D1SportsNet


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Womens basketball

Creighton vs Iowa

NCAA Tournament first-round opponents Lisa Bluder of Iowa and Jim Flanery of Creighton have a history of running into each other -- literally.

The Iowa coach recounted a story ahead of Saturday's matchup between the sixth-seeded Hawkeyes (24-7) and the 11th-seeded Bluejays (18-12) at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. While riding through the streets of Chicago during the Nike Nationals recruiting event in the summer of 2016, the car she was in crashed into a cab.

Flanery exited the cab, and upon seeing Bluder, the two embraced -- much to the taxi driver's confusion, Bluder remembers.

"We've got some really good history together," Bluder said. "Took him out in a cab driver, hope to take him out in the NCAA Tournament."

Their teams' meeting marks another milestone in a relationship going back more than a quarter-century. In the 1990s, Flanery was an assistant at then-Missouri Valley Conference member Creighton. One of the Bluejays' conference rivals was Drake, coached by Bluder.

Bluder left for Iowa in 2000, two years before Flanery ascended to head coach at Creighton. In more recent times, the two have arranged closed-door, preseason scrimmages for almost a decade running.

"You're typically preparing for somebody you've never seen, you don't really know," Bluder said of Creighton. "A lot of these kids, we know personally. We recruited them, built that relationship with them.

"We're traveling three hours by plane for a team that could be bussing three hours to play against."

Los Angeles is indeed a much different locale for this pairing than Iowa City or Omaha, and the stakes are dramatically different than they were in October. Then again, these teams were quite different than they are now, as Creighton guard Sydney Lamberty noted.

"I'd say we were a little rough along the edges the first time we played them," Lamberty said. "We weren't really jelling. ... There were some key players we lost (from the 2016-17 team that finished 24-8 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament)."

As the 2017-18 regular season progressed and the Bluejays endured a stretch losing four of five in Big East Conference play, Lamberty said team leaders brought their concerns to Flanery. The coaching staff oversaw a team meeting.

"We said, 'Hey, this is what we need from you guys, this is what you bring to the team and what you're really good at,'" said Lamberty, who at 11.9 points and 5.3 assists per game is Creighton's leading senior contributor. "Sometimes you need a little help in that area; I know I definitely did (as an underclassmen)."

Despite rallying to finish the season, a loss in the Big East Conference Tournament made Selection Monday a bit nerve racking in Omaha.

"I breathed a heavy, heavy sigh of relief," Flanery said of seeing his team's name appear on the bracket.

Iowa went into the selection show a lock for the field of 64 after winning nine of its final 11 in the regular season and Big Ten Tournament.

The Hawkeyes thrived with a potent offense, averaging 79 points per game, powered by the outstanding play of center Megan Gustafson.

As Iowa made progress throughout the campaign -- including learning to function without injured guard Tania Davis -- Gustafson remained one constant dating to the Creighton scrimmage in October.

Just how good is the center averaging 25.6 points and 12.7 rebounds per game?

"I think she had 25 or 27, and we felt like we did a really good job on her," Flanery said. "So that gives you an indication."

While 6-foot-3 teammates Gustafson and Chase Coley give Iowa an interior advantage, Bluder said Creighton's lineup of "all guards" could vex the Hawkeyes. The Bluejays feature four double-figure scorers, with Jaylyn Agnew (14.5 points per game) and Olivia Elger (10.2 points per game) joining Lamberty. Audrey Faber sets the pace at 14.8 points per game.