Bears face red-hot Iowa in first round of March Madness

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In the Tournament Selection Show on Monday, ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck argued that the Cal women’s basketball has the best chance of upsetting top-seeded Notre Dame in the second round. Peck compared Cal to West Virginia, who upset the Fighting Irish earlier this season.

If only Cal’s March Madness route was that easy. The Bears still have the first round to win before they can even start to think about Notre Dame.

On Sunday at 9:10 a.m. in Notre Dame, Ind., the eight-seed Bears (24-9) have the surging, nine-seed Iowa team waiting in the first round. Despite a fifth-place finish in the Big Ten conference, the Hawkeyes (19-11) are coming in with an eight-game winning streak.

The two teams exhibit contrasting styles of basketball. The Bears have built a reputation as a fast-paced transition team that uses its deep post rotation to grind out points. Under the direction of first-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb, Cal finished second in both the Pac-12 standings and conference tournament, clinching a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.

Under 12th-year coach Lisa Bluder, Iowa plays a slow-down style of basketball, passing the ball around until the shot clock winds down to its last seconds. Utilizing one player in the post and four around the perimeter, the Hawkeyes rely on perimeter shooting for points.

Despite a guard-oriented offense, the star of the Iowa offense has been lone center Morgan Johnson. The 6-foot-5 player has been one of the best post players in the Big Ten, leading the conference in field goal percentage.

The four Cal post players plan to use their superior agility and speed to wear down the slow center.

“If she has her hands in front of our face in defense, we’ll drive by her,” said forward Gennifer Brandon. “If she sags back in the paint, we’ll try our high post jump shots.”

But for the majority of the season, Johnson was not the focal point of Iowa. The heart of the Hawkeye offense was guard Jaime Printy, whose 16.9 points per game makes her fifth in the Big Ten in scoring.

Printy’s season was cut short by a torn ACL on Feb. 2 at Wisconsin. Immediately after the injury, Iowa embarked on its winning streak, catapulting the Hawkeyes back into the tournament bubble. Victories against Michigan and Purdue further padded Iowa’s resume to the Big Dance.

“When you lose someone really valuable, someone who you really want to play with, sometimes there is an emotional boost that elevates the team,” Gottlieb said.

But on a tactical perspective, Gottlieb pointed to Samantha Logic as the catalyst for the Hawkeyes’ success. The freshman guard ranks in the top 10 in the conference in rebounds and assists. Logic is like the Midwestern version of Cal’s own Brittany Boyd — a versatile, explosive freshman that controls the team’s pace. In the past month, Logic has improved her shooting and become a more complete player.

The battle between Boyd and Logic will be the difference maker of the first round matchup.

“What we want in March is the explosive, fun-to-watch Brittany Boyd, but now who is seasoned after 30 games,” Gottlieb said.

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