By Sean Bock
After starting off the season strong at 14-1, the Iowa women’s basketball team hasn’t been at its best recently, dropping five of its last seven contests.
A few games before the woes ensued, starting point guard Tania Davis tore her ACL against Northern Iowa on Dec. 17. Since then, the Hawkeyes haven’t been able to find consistency outside of Megan Gustafson, who has scored 20-plus points in every outing this winter.
The latest edition of Iowa’s recent struggles hit on Sunday — three days after the upset victory over Ohio State — when Nebraska came into Carver-Hawkeye and completely rolled over Iowa on its home floor in front of the largest home crowd this season.
“Last week was obviously a roller coaster,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “But we’re moving on to this week now, and we have another task at hand this week with two games — [at Michigan State and home vs. Minnesota] — two very important games, as they all are right now. Now you’re looking at every game as very important for the end-of-the-year results.”
Currently at 4-5 in conference play, Iowa is in a three-way tie for the eighth spot in the rankings with Michigan State and Penn State.
With seven conference games left, it’s vital that the Hawkeyes protect home court and secure a few away games to keep them in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
Charlie Crème of ESPN said Iowa is a No. 9 seed in the Midwest Region, meaning it will most likely be matched up with perennial powerhouse Notre Dame in the Round of 32 if it can get past the first round.
Of the Hawkeyes’ seven remaining opponents, only Rutgers is projected to earn a berth in the Round of 64, which implies there’s no reason Bluder’s team should lose more than one, if any, during this stretch.
“Every time you get a win in the Big Ten, it’s huge, not only for your RPI but your résumé for the selection committee,” Bluder said. “I think these last seven games and how we perform in the Big Ten Tournament are really important no matter what postseason tournament we are in.”
The Spartans are coming off a 78-62 loss at Ohio State, and they have suffered defeat in four of their last six games.
Michigan State does not have any superstars on the roster, but it’s one of the most balanced squads in the Big Ten scoring-wise; seven Spartans average more than 6.8 points a game.
“They have a lot of depth,” Bluder said. “Especially a lot of depth at the inside position and center position. Their guard play has been hampered because of injury, and that was a big part of their game. Now they’re both back, and that makes a very big difference for this team.”
Spartan guard Shay Colley — Michigan State’s leading scorer in conference play — has been out the past few games with a knee injury, and her status is still unknown, Bluder said.
Following the Hawkeyes’ matchup in East Lansing, they will head back to Carver for a Feb. 4 rematch with Minnesota, which beat Iowa, 77-72, in Minneapolis on Jan. 21.