By Jordan Zuniga
Last week, the calendar flipped from January to February, and it seemed that with it, the Hawkeyes also flipped a page and returned to their winning ways.
Sunday’s win over Minnesota marked the first time Iowa recorded back-to-back victories since December, and the Hawkeyes hope to keep the momentum rolling through February and into March. Currently winners in three of their last four games, the Hawkeyes are poised to go on a run to finish the season strong.
“I don’t see why not,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “If we keep coming out strong, there is absolutely no reason we can’t make a good run.”
Part of the reason for Bluder’s confidence is the easier schedule the Hawkeyes have to close out the season. In January — in which Iowa went 2-5 — it played five of its seven games against the top-four teams in the Big Ten, and some of those games were played while down two starters on an 11-woman squad.
Now, one of Iowa’s missing starters, Makenzie Meyer, is back, and she seems to be almost at full health. Adding to Bluder’s confidence, only one of the Hawkeyes’ remaining five opponents has a winning record in conference play.
The schedule may be softer, but the Big Ten is a tough conference, top to bottom, and after a rough month, the Hawkeyes are treating every game with the utmost importance.
“Every game, we talk about the significance of every game,” Bluder said. “Not only for the Big Ten standings, but for the NCAA Tournament, every game is important.”
While it is tempting to look ahead to March, Bluder and Company realize how important these last five games are if they want to be in the best position to succeed in March.
For the Big Ten Tournament, the Hawkeyes are a seventh-seed, meaning they will face the 10th seed, currently Indiana. As it stands, Iowa would play on the second day of the tournament and would have to win three games to get to the championship tilt.
With the lack of depth on the team, it would be ideal to be able to get a bye. This is not impossible — the Hawkeyes are just two games behind Purdue for the last bye.
The positive news for Iowa is that two of the teams ahead of them — Purdue and Minnesota — each play two top-four Big Ten foes, while the other team ahead of them, Michigan, plays the Big Ten leader, Maryland, and Minnesota.
More welcoming news is how well everybody (not named Megan Gustafson) played on Sunday — a good sign that things are starting to click again for the Hawkeyes.
“It’s great to be able to depend on my teammates,” Gustafson said. “I love seeing them hit shots. It’s really exciting to see [Meyer] get her confidence back and Lexi [Sevillian] get her confidence back.”
Iowa’s goal remains to make the NCAA Tournament, especially considering its two-year hiatus. A spot in the tournament doesn’t seem to be at risk at the moment; Iowa currently projects to be a ninth seed, but if it would like to have a chance at a tourney run, it needs a higher seed.
Winning out would help that cause, no doubt, and the Hawkeyes have their first chance to keep their small winning streak alive Thursday at 7 p.m. in Carver-Hawkeye, when they take on Penn State.