Hawkeye women play at Purdue tonight


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Lisa Bluder thinks the Big Ten is the best women’s basketball conference in America.

Take a quick look at the conference standings as of Wednesday, and the veteran head coach is probably right. Eight teams are within four games or fewer of first place, and the last three teams have identical conference records.

Translation? No one can predict who is going to win the Big Ten. Certainly not with more than half of the contenders still owning a legitimate chance at capturing the title.

Iowa (17-5, 5-4) — just two games out of the top spot — has yet another important week starting with tonight’s matchup against Purdue at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. For the Hawkeyes, this is the only time they will play the Boilermakers (15-7, 5-4) in the regular season, so the game’s result will serve as a tiebreaker if both teams are tied at season’s end.

The Sharon Versyp-coached Purdue squad boasts a marquee win in West Lafayette against Penn State, which Iowa will play on Feb. 6.

“I think this is such an incredibly tough conference,” Bluder said. “It’s the No. 1 conference in America. There are going to be [teams] that have a lot of losses when you’re playing good teams on a consistent basis.”

The Hawkeyes are coming off a road victory against Illinois, where “two busloads” of Iowa fans were in attendance, associate head coach Jan Jensen noted on Twitter. The atmosphere at Purdue will not be quite as forgiving — Mackey Arena is known to be a tough place to play for Big Ten squads.

Bluder said the band, lighting, and somewhat-raised court are all factors that contribute to that.

Junior Kelly Krei, who scored in double digits in each of Iowa’s last three contests, said the Hawkeyes are going to try to ignore the crowd and block out any distractions.

While the Big Ten standings are about as unpredictable as the rowdy Boilermaker fans, one notion is clear — every game in the conference is important, especially in the second half of the season. The same could be said last week, and it will probably be the mantra after the Hawkeyes’ next two games as well.

For Iowa, the consensus is brief and simple — and encouraging for the players. Senior Kachine Alexander said the Hawkeyes haven’t reached their peak yet.

“We pretty much could have won every game we’ve played,” Alexander said. “That gives us even more motivation, because we haven’t had a game yet where everyone is ‘on.’ It should be interesting when that happens.”

With the Hawkeyes not having to play either Michigan State or Ohio State the rest of the season — they have already played each preseason favorite twice — players say there is plenty of reason for optimism.

Krei echoed Alexander’s belief, citing the Hawkeyes’ late-season push last year as a reason to be hopeful. The journey to that peak, Krei said, starts at Purdue.

“We’ll always have last year to realize that maybe if you don’t start off as good, you can’t give up on anything,” she said. “We didn’t have a rough start to the season this year, but we did lose our first two [Big Ten] games this season. So it’s important to know that we can bounce back at any time.”

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