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Hoopsters eye Badgers as ‘must’ win on path to NCAA Tournament

BY JEFF PAWOLA | FEBRUARY 19, 2009 7:51 AM

The Iowa women’s basketball team (16-9, 9-5) will entertain Wisconsin (15-11, 5-10) today at 7:05 p.m. in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The Hawkeyes beat the Badgers, 73-63, in each team’s first Big Ten game of the season, in Madison on Dec. 22. In the span of almost two months, both teams have gone on opposite paths leading them into tonight’s battle — with Iowa winning eight of its last 10 and Wisconsin dropping six of its last seven.

“This time of year, we’re talking about only four games remaining,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “Wisconsin at home on Thursday night feels like eons ago since we played Wisconsin before Christmas to open up the Big Ten season.”

Iowa rests in fifth place in the Big Ten, only one game behind fourth-place Minnesota. Despite only being two spots behind Iowa in the standings, Wisconsin finds themselves four-and-a-half games behind the Hawkeyes and four games behind sixth place Indiana.

With the Badgers claiming the highest ranking of any remaining team on Iowa’s schedule, Bluder cited tonight’s matchup, as well as the remainder of their games, as a must win in order to earn the right to play at Carver-Hawkeye Arena when it hosts the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament in March.

“When I look at the RPIs of the last three teams we play [Michigan, Illinois, and Northwestern], those are must wins,” Bluder said. “Now, we don’t have any bad losses, and we don’t want any bad losses. Wisconsin has a good RPI, but the last three teams that we play do not have a good RPI.”
Entering today, the Hawkeyes have an RPI of 33 and a strength of schedule that ranks 24th best in the country. Following this evening’s outcome, regardless of the result, both will go down, and will continue to fall as their opponents become easier on paper. In fact, Iowa’s remaining four opponents decrease in RPI — Wisconsin is at 63, Michigan’s RPI is 130, Illinois’ RPI is 131, and Northwestern’s RPI is 244.

“We have to worry about Wisconsin and playing well against it because each game’s important,” senior Wendy Ausdemore said. “As a senior, four games left in the regular season, you have to take a step back and just stay in the present moment and think about today.”

This past week has been entertaining for the Hawkeyes to say the least, having upset then-No. 18 Ohio State on Feb. 12, followed by a 20-point come-from-behind victory at Penn State on Feb. 15, the biggest deficit Iowa has ever overcome to win a game.

Iowa senior Kristi Smith is among those moving on from the monumental week and maintaining her focus for the rest of the way.

“[Wisconsin and Michigan are] two really great teams and we can’t take them lightly,” she said. “Especially Wisconsin, it’s coming off a tough loss [on Feb. 16], it played Indiana down to the wire. [The Badgers] are going to be out for revenge, so we just have to come out ready to go.”
With momentum coming into the final two weeks of the regular season, Iowa feels confident with its chances from here on out.

“I feel good about the way we’re playing right now,” Bluder said. “I just think that we’re a hard team to guard because we have a lot of people that can do a lot of different things.”


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