IOWA CITY -- Iowa’s opening-round opponent in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament simply welcomes the opportunity.
Creighton is in the NCAA field for the second straight season, but the Bluejays found themselves squarely on the NCAA bubble before finding out Monday they would face the Hawkeyes in a 5 p.m. tourney opener Saturday at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.
A new wrinkle to this year’s tournament only added to the intrigue.
For the first time, the NCAA selection committee announced on Sunday a list of eight teams under consideration for the final spots in the 64-team women’s field.
Creighton was on that list.
So were Buffalo, Oklahoma and Minnesota, who were announced as part of the field Monday before the Bluejays found out they would be facing Iowa.
The suspense turned to relief for coach Jim Flanery, who believes his 18-12 team most likely earned its NCAA opportunity with its work during the nonconference portion of the schedule and by beating Providence on the road in double overtime on Feb. 10.
“Without that Providence win, we’re probably looking at a different scenario,’’ Flanery said. “But, our nonconference strength of schedule was 12th and it gave us a top-40 nonconference RPI which compared to the other teams on the list, I feel probably made a difference.’’
Creighton finished 6-4 outside of the Big East and its record includes five wins against NCAA tournament qualifiers, including wins over Drake, Nebraska and South Dakota State in addition to Big East victories over Villanova and Marquette.
Flanery also believes his team benefited from annual nonconference games against Northern Iowa and South Dakota as well as match-ups this year with Washington, Florida State and a UCLA team the Bluejays could face in the second round of the NCAA tourney if they get past Iowa.
“There aren’t a lot of power-five teams that want to play us in nonconference games and we’ve been fortunate to have good teams in our region, Drake, UNI, South Dakota, South Dakota State, that are willing to play us on a regular basis because nobody wants to play them either,’’ Flanery said. “Those games helped lift our RPI.’’
Iowa is 7-5 all-time against Creighton and while the teams haven’t met since the 2006-07 season, the teams are far from strangers.
The Hawkeyes and Bluejays have met in a closed-door preseason scrimmage before the start of each of last seven seasons.
“We have a great relationship with the Iowa staff and I think it’s a situation that has been beneficial to both of our programs,’’ Flanery said.
“So we do know each other a bit and we certainly know that they have a tremendous post player in Megan Gustafson. We got a good look at what she’s capable of in the scrimmage and they have good talent around her. They’re not a deep team, but they can score the ball and like anybody you face this time of year, they’re a good, solid team.’’