By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
The ghost from last year popped up on the big screen as Iowa’s women’s basketball team watched Sunday’s NCAA tournament selection show.
It was very early in the telecast — the 68-team field hadn’t even been announced — when a video reminder of the Hawkeyes’ 64-62 loss to Creighton at home in the second round of last season’s tournament was shown.
The clip quickly disappeared from the screen, but some of the Hawkeyes noticed.
Iowa is a No. 2 seed again in the tournament, as it was last season. The Hawkeyes will be at home again, this time against No. 15 seed Southeastern Louisiana, with No. 7 seed Florida State and 10 seed Georgia on the other side of the bracket.
And this is essentially the same team as last season, with a couple of pieces added and some players in extended roles.
The lesson of last season, though, is still there.
“You know, I think it’s in the back of our minds,” senior forward McKenna Warnock said. “We don’t talk about it too often now. But we all know — we were there, we experienced it. And we kind of know that we have to focus on each game, one game at a time.”
That kind of focus is clear with this team. The Hawkeyes won the Big Ten Tournament last Sunday, but coach Lisa Bluder said that feels like a long time ago. So long, in fact, that they forgot to bring the trophy with them to Sunday’s selection party.
“I mean, it’s just behind us now and we’re focused on the next step,” she said.
The Hawkeyes, at 26-6, were No. 2 in last week’s national polls and were hoping for a No. 1 seed in one of the regionals.
South Carolina’s name was called as the first No. 1. Then Big Ten regular-season champion Indiana, which the Hawkeyes defeated in the final game of the regular season. Then Virginia Tech.
When Stanford’s logo showed up on the big screen, indicating the Cardinal were the final No. 1 seed, some of the Iowa players reacted in disappointment, but they soon realized they were a No. 2 seed.
The regionals were numbered according to the seed line of the No. 1 seed in the regional. Stanford and Iowa were in Seattle Regional 4, which means the Cardinal were the fourth seed overall, and the Hawkeyes were fifth.
“What’s the difference between the last No. 1 or the first No. 2?” Bluder said. “There’s absolutely no difference.”
“We were going to be one of the two,” center Monika Czinano said. “I really didn’t care, honestly.”
“There’s not a ton of change with that,” guard Caitlin Clark said.
Clark thought back to last season.
“It doesn’t matter what number is by your name,” Clark said. “And that’s why I didn’t care if we were a 1 or a 2. Did I think we deserved a 1? Absolutely. Is Stanford probably deserving of a No. 1? Absolutely.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. If we want to get to the Final Four, we’re going to have to go through a lot of really, really good teams. So it doesn’t matter if we’re playing a 10 seed, or a 7 seed, or a 15 seed. You’ve got to come prepared every night to play.”
The Hawkeyes had a long offseason to think about that defeat to Creighton on that Sunday afternoon in front of a sellout home crowd.
And it’s shown in their focus this season. Their chance at a share of the Big Ten regular-season crown was squashed in an ugly 96-68 loss at Maryland on February 21, but they came back to beat Indiana, and then roll through the conference tournament, a 105-72 thrashing of Ohio State in the championship game completing the run.
Iowa has had a week to find out its NCAA tournament road. It starts in the same place as last year.
The Hawkeyes want the road to go longer, and finish somewhere far away.
“We have so much confidence in ourselves,” Czinano said. “We truly think we can set our own bar. We make our own kind of statement.”
Photo: Iowa’s players celebrate after winning last week’s Big Ten Tournament. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)