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NCAA Women's Tournament 2011 Preview: Gonzaga Vs. Iowa Q&A With SBN's Black Heart Gold Pants

Over at SBN Seattle, we've been previewing the 11-seed Gonzaga Bulldogs' Cinderella chances in the Spokane bracket of the 2011 NCAA Tournament more extensively in our tournament storystream. As part of that coverage, I had the opportunity to do a brief Q&A with Ross of SBN's Iowa Hawkeyes site Black Heart Gold Pants. You can find my answers to his questions at BHGP and his answers to my questions after the jump.

For more about both teams, check out Queenie's capsules on Gonzaga and Iowa. For more on the Spokane bracket in its entirety, check our bracket preview.

If you really want more, talk up the game in the comments.

SA: Iowa had won 7 of 9 games before losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. What was going right during that time?

BHGP: Frankly, one of the factors that led to that hot streak at the end of the regular season was pure scheduling good fortune: six of their first eight games in conference play came against teams that finished in the top five in the conference; not surprisingly they went 4-4 in that stretch.  Conversely, in the final eight games of the conference schedule, they played only one team that finished in the top five in the conference; that easier slate helped propel them to a 6-2 mark in those games.  One of the other key factors was that they were able to get their offense clicking; in four of their six wins they scored 80+ points.

SA: Kachine "The Machine" Alexander has put up some gaudy rebounding numbers. But what is something about her game that we might not be able to see on paper?

BHGP: Kachine is the absolute glue of this Iowa team.  She does just about everything, from the noticeable things (she's the leading rebounder at 9.5 rpg, the second-leading scorer at 14.3 ppg, the third-most assists on the team (99), the most steals (53), and leads the team in minutes at 34.6 mpg) to the less noticeable things, like diving for loose balls, setting screens, and being a leader on the floor.  It's doubtful Iowa can survive without a strong game from her; if she has to sit for any reason, Iowa's likely to suffer plenty of breakdowns on both sides of the ball.

SA: Based on their numbers in conference play, Iowa relied heavily on its starters and then seems to have a drop-off in productivity off the bench. Who might be a player off the bench that brings something that doesn't show up in the numbers well?

BHGP: The truth is this Iowa team isn't very deep at all -- if starters get dinged up or suffer foul trouble, they're in big trouble because the bench hasn't been able to offer much support all year.  That said, if Kalli Hanson's outside shot is falling (she's a 36% shooter from long-range on the season), she could provide some welcome scoring relief from off the bench.

SA: Was there any really consistent factor in Iowa's losses? 

BHGP: The overriding factor in all of their losses was poor shooting, especially from long-range.  They shot 41% or worse in every loss (and their three-point percentages was usually much, much worse), which is fatal for a team that depends on a potent offense.  Iowa tends to particularly struggle if their three-pointers aren't falling because they don't have much of a Plan B in that situation -- they struggle to pound the ball in low at times.  And, frankly, depth has also been a problem in many of their losses: with such an unproductive bench, the starters are often to forced to play long minutes and in some of the losses they've looked visibly fatigued at the end of games, leading to sloppy execution on offense and defense.

SA: The prevailing sentiment is that Iowa is a prime candidate to exit the tournament early in playing a stronger-than-11-seed Gonzaga team at home. What about this Hawkeyes team might inspire confidence for Iowa fans? 

BHGP: Even on a truly neutral court, Gonzaga would be a difficult draw for Iowa; put them on their home court and the challenge is only exacerbated.  They did have a winning record on the road this year (6-5), but they didn't exactly beat a murderer's row away from Iowa City, either (South Dakota State, Drake, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, and Indiana).  The best thing Iowa has going for them is that they're a fairly experienced team with past tournament experience, a solid coach, and a pair of dynamite performers (Kachine Alexander and Jamie Printy) who are capable of taking over and lighting up any opponent.  Iowa will need those two to be at their best against Gonzaga, but if they have big games Iowa will have a good chance to advance to the second round.