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Lady Bulldogs and Iowa set to meet in first round of NCAA Tournament
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DES MOINES, Iowa — It was almost too good to be true.

No torn knee ligaments, no surgeries, no hospital visits. What’s this? A season of good health for the Iowa women’s basketball team?

Well, almost. On the eve of the Hawkeyes’ first-round NCAA tournament game with Georgia today, coach Lisa Bluder was worried about the health of back-up center JoAnn Hamlin. Hamlin injured her left ankle in practice in Iowa City on Friday before the team left for Virginia.

Bluder thought Hamlin would be able to play in the New Orleans Regional game at the Ted Constant Convention Center, but she wasn’t sure how much.

“We won’t know until we’re out on the floor,” Bluder said Saturday. “We’ll know a lot more on her status Sunday morning.”

Even with Hamlin’s bum ankle, this season has been far less stressful on Bluder than previous years, when it seemed as though one key player after another went down with an injury.

The ninth-seeded Hawkeyes (21-10) shared the regular-season Big Ten championship with Ohio State and earned the school’s 17th NCAA tournament appearance after going 14-16 a year ago.

“For the last five years we have been devastated by injuries within our program,” Bluder said.
“It makes a big difference when you have a full team of players and we had that this year.”

One of those players Bluder mentioned, Johanna Solverson, has bounced back from two torn anterior cruciate ligaments and was granted a sixth year of eligibility this season. The other, Stacy Schlapkohl, had her season cut short two years ago by a torn ACL.

With five seniors and five juniors, the Hawkeyes also have plenty of experience. And those seniors understand that their college days are almost over.

“We always talk about it,” Solverson said. “Right now it’s one-and-done. Our goal was to be one of 64 to make it to the tournament. We’re hoping to go a lot further than that. We know we have to leave everything on the floor. We can see the end of the road.”

If the Hawkeyes don’t play well, the end could come today. Eighth-seeded Georgia (22-9) was ranked as high as seventh this season and has one of the nation’s top players in 6-foot-3 forward Tasha Humphrey.

The Lady Bulldogs also have plenty of talent and size to go with her. Coach Andy Landers starts 6-5 Angel Robinson at center and has 6-3 Megan Darrah on the perimeter.

Humphrey looks forward to mixing it up with Iowa’s inside players — 6-2 Krista VandeVenter, 6-6 Megan Skouby and Schlapkohl, who’s 6-3.

“It’s a big challenge,” Humphrey said. “Not only are they big, but they’re physical and are capable of doing a lot of things. I think it’s going to be a great matchup and it’s going to be a lot of fun. I love physical.”

Georgia started 13-0, then endured some tough times in Southeastern Conference play. The Lady Dogs lost four of five during one stretch, including a non-conference game at Oklahoma, and finished 9-7 in the league.

“It either gets you ready for a tournament like this or it makes you suicidal,” Landers said of playing in the SEC. “A friend of mine that once coached in the league said it best: Someone asked how he slept. He said he sleeps like a baby. He wakes up every two hours crying.

“If you love to compete, I can’t imagine being in another league.”

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