The year was 1996. Angie Lee was the head coach of the Hawkeyes, heading a team recruited mostly by legendary head coach C. Vivian Stringer. The 1995-96 Hawkeyes advanced to the Sweet 16, before bowing out to Vanderbilt.
The Hawkeyes haven’t been back since.
Now, Lisa Bluder and the sixth-seeded Hawkeyes have the opportunity to change that after a convincing 87-65 win over No. 11 Marist Sunday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes led by just eight at halftime, but exploded in the second half, knocking down eight three-pointers on 12 attempts, and shooting 62.1 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes.
All five Hawkeye starters scored in double figures, buoyed by 22 points from senior Theairra Taylor and a 21-point effort by center Bethany Doolittle, who was referred to multiple times as a “stud” by Marist head coach Brian Giorgis. Point guard Samantha Logic finished one rebound shy of a triple-double, which would have been just the 14th triple-double in NCAA Tournament history.
Three players scored a team-high 12 points for Marist, who was appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the ninth consecutive year — Emma O’Connor, Sydney Coffey, and Madeline Blais.
Giorgis said the Hawkeyes refused to let Marist pull another first-round upset, forcing the Red Foxes to surrender either the post or the perimeter.
“They were just relentless,” Giorgis said of the Hawkeyes. “It’s the nightmare you are afraid of when they have all five people that can score, four of them shoot the three and one of them is a stud inside. What do you take away?”
Taylor’s 22-point output was marked by five three-pointers, a career-high for the senior who entered the night hoping it wouldn’t be her last as a Hawkeye. Taylor said the presence of Doolittle opened up shots on the perimeter for Iowa.
“Beth was demanding so much attention that we were wide open,” Taylor said. “We didn’t want to keep driving in and getting charge fouls, so we started to let it go and keep building our confidence.”
Doolittle added that her size advantage — the junior was the tallest player on the court — helped draw Marist’s defense to the post and open up the three-point shot, especially in the second half.
“From the get-go, we had a little bit of a height advantage down low, and we trying to take advantage of it,” Doolittle said. “It definitely helped us later on to get people on the perimeter open for their shots.”
Tuesday will be Iowa’s seventh trip to the second round of the tournament since 1996. The first six — 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2010, and 2013 — all resulted in losses.
In a season marked by history for Bluder – the win was Iowa’s 27th, the highest under Bluder and the second-highest in school history — a win over Louisville Tuesday night would make even more of it.
“It’s something that we would love to accomplish,” Bluder said of advancing to the second weekend. “Who wouldn’t want to be in the Sweet 16?”
The Hawkeyes’ quest for the elusive Sweet 16 berth will take place Tuesday night against the third-seeded Louisville Cardinals at Carver-Hawkeye Arena at 8:30 p.m.