Baylor vs Iowa Live : The eyes of Baylor guard Didi Richards grew big in the second quarter of Saturday’s women’s NCAA tournament Sweet 16 rout of South Carolina when she saw Kalani Brown running alone for a fast-break opportunity.She lofted the ball long and high, hoping to give the 6-foot-7 center a chance to run under it for an easy basket.
It’s a different team and different personnel, obviously, than the Baylor challenge. But the Notre Dame drubbing — albeit without then-injured Kathleen Doyle — showcased a flawless product Iowa is trying to match.
It hopes Monday’s attempt goes much better.
“I think we can make a big statement,” all-American senior Megan Gustafson said. “The last time we played a team when we were the underdog, we didn’t play the best. … We’re a different team than we were then. I think some people maybe don’t think that’s true and think we’re the same team.“We’ve been jelling all year long since then, and that was kind of a turning point to be honest — just being like, ‘OK, we need to focus up and keep having that intensity no matter what.’ That’s been really helpful as we’ve kept that going since that game. We’re turning heads, and we’re going to keep doing that (Monday).”
To do so, Gustafson will have to handle her toughest matchup to date. On the other side is 6-foot-7 senior Kalani Brown, a unanimous all-American in her own right. She too is on the last leg of a decorated career, hoping to end it with championship glory. Baylor’s 6-foot-4 Lauren Cox against Hannah Stewart is a solid undercard.
During Sunday’s press conferences, both Brown and Baylor coach Kim Mulkey were understandably asked about the hype-filled matchup down low. There was plenty of respect for Gustafson — but also multiple tongue-and-cheek answers regarding how this showdown might unfold.
Mulkey said she hopes Brown doesn’t “have nightmares all night” about facing Gustafson. Baylor’s standout center sarcastically answered a question about Monday’s challenges by highlighting her “lack of mobility.”
Regardless, two of the sport’s most forceful players will be on full display in primetime. That’s a hard-to-beat storyline in such a pivotal game.
“In order to get (to the Final Four), we have to go through one of the best players in the country,” Gustafson said. “I have no problem trying to do that.”
Neither do the Hawkeyes as a whole. The spread, which currently has Baylor as a 13.5-point favorite, and the national women’s basketball scene aren’t pegging this one as a trendy upset. Iowa knows that.
Does it care? Not so much.
“People can think whatever they want to think about us,” Doyle said. “That’s our mindset. We know what we believe, and if we go out there and show it, that’s all that really matters.
“You start off the tournament, you’re thinking Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Now that we’re in this Elite Eight, we should probably go to the Final Four too. We just want more.”
An upset Monday would send the women’s college basketball world spinning. Baylor hasn’t lost in 15 weeks and is shooting for its fourth Final Four in 14 years. Iowa is playing in the Elite Eight for the first time in nearly three decades.
The difference in pedigree matters little to the Hawkeyes.
“A lot of people have us as the underdogs, but we’re still so confident in each other,” junior Makenzie Meyer said. “We really believe we’re going to pull this off.”The Baylor vs. Iowa clash in the Greensboro Region final will feature a matchup of two of the nation’s best centers.
Both Baylor’s Kalani Brown and Iowa’s Megan Gustafson are among five finalists for the Lisa Leslie Award, given to the top center in the country.
The showdown between the 6-foot-7 senior Brown and 6-foot-3 senior Gustafson had media members salivating before Baylor had even advanced to the Elite Eight.
“I think everyone in the country would look forward to that matchup,” Gustafson said when she was asked about facing Brown during the Hawkeyes’ postgame press conference.
Lady Bears prove themselves Elite
Likewise, a reporter asked Brown about lining up against Iowa’s accomplished center.
“I’ve played against a lot of great post players, so she will be another one that’s going to challenge me,” Brown said. “We’re both lefties, and kind of seeing her play, we’re kind of alike. That should be interesting. I’m excited to play.”
Gustafson makes up a much larger part of Iowa’s total offense than Brown does for the Lady Bears. The Hawkeyes center averages 27.9 points and 13.5 rebounds, while Baylor’s big lady posts 15.5 points and 8.1 boards per night.