By Sean Bock
There’s no doubt whether the Iowa women’s basketball team knows it’s in the midst of a special season.
When the Hawkeyes started to hit a road bump in the middle of January, losing three straight to Purdue, Nebraska, and Minnesota, head coach Lisa Bluder and her team never lost confidence.
Following that tough stretch, Iowa knocked off No. 12 Ohio State in Carver-Hawkeye and picked up must-win games over Michigan State and Minnesota.
“We learned a lot about ourselves,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “The team is playing with a good feeling right now. [Penn State] is going to be tough, but I like the way we feel about ourselves going into it.”
The Nittany Lions (14-10, 5-6 Big Ten) have won four of their last six and are coming off a 74-59 victory over Michigan State, which the Hawkeyes beat, 71-68, in overtime on Feb. 1.
While Iowa boasts a better record this year, Penn State has gotten the last laugh in the past couple years, winning eight of the last 10 meetings, including three straight.
“They have always brought their ‘A’ game, and [Thursday] will be no different,” junior Megan Gustafson said. “Every team will give us its best shot, so we need to be consistent, and keep that energy, and focus the whole time. They have good guards, good shooters, so we will have to be ready to defend from the 3-point line.”
The Nittany Lions are led by the high-scoring guard trio of Teniya Page, Amari Carter, and Jaida Travascio-Green. The three are averaging a combined 44.8 points per game, which accounts for 64 percent of the team’s total.
With five games remaining in the regular season, the Hawkeyes realize they need every win they can get, and they have made the most of their opportunities the past week.
As of Feb. 5, Iowa stands as a No. 9 seed in ESPN’s latest bracketology, and the Hawkeyes have a chance to improve that seeding with a relatively easy slate to close out the season.
“I would rather have the momentum at the end of the year by far,” Bluder said. “Going into the postseason, you want to play your best.”
While Gustafson has been the star of the team and one of the top players in the country, her teammates — such as Makenzie Meyer, Kathleen Doyle, Chase Coley, and Lexi Sevillian — have started to find their groove. They all scored in double figures in the last victory, over Minnesota.
With Gustafson playing at the level as she has all year, along with the steady contributions of other Hawkeyes, Iowa is a tough team to beat and has a legitimate chance to make some noise come March.
“We tell them every game is important, not only for Big Ten standings but for our résumé for the [NCAA] selection committee,” Bluder said. “We don’t dwell on it, but we bring it to their attention, so they know about it.”
Following the matchup with Penn State, the Hawkeyes will hit the road and head to Evanston to take on Northwestern on Feb. 11.