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Iowa women poised for a postseason run

BY KYLE MANN | FEBRUARY 04, 2015 5:00 AM

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The Hawkeyes were only a few of minutes away from sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

Hawk head coach Lisa Bluder’s second-place, No. 17th squad traveled to Maryland over the weekend for its only opportunity to meet the first-place, No. 5 Terrapins and lay its claim to Big Ten supremacy.

After being in control for a majority of the game, the Hawkeyes lost their grip on the lead down the stretch, and with it, their hopes of forcefully snatching first place in a head-to-head bout. Despite the loss, Iowa (17-4, 8-2 Big Ten), now has a much clearer picture of what it must accomplish to finish the regular season.

With an outright conference championship now relatively out of the picture, Bluder’s attention is aimed at maintaining position in the top four of the conference.

“The top four is very important,” she said. “It basically gives you two byes [in the conference tournament], so it’s a different way it’s set up this year. So it’s very important to be in those top four spots, and that’s what we have to have our sights set on.”

In the conference standings, the Hawkeyes hold a one-game advantage over Nebraska, Rutgers, and Ohio State. They have one game remaining with the Cornhuskers after defeating them on Jan. 26, and two remaining with the Buckeyes, including one on Thursday at home.

As such, with a meaningful game coming so closely on the heels of an agonizing defeat, the Hawkeyes must quickly regroup in order to avoid dropping a trap game down the late stretch of the season.

“It’s important to have a little bit of amnesia after a loss,” center Bethany Doolittle said. “But last game, we played pretty well and saw what we could do against top-ranked teams, so there are good things and bad things to take from that.”

It’s not that the Hawkeyes haven’t played other good teams. In fact, the schedule thus far is the eighth-most difficult in the NCAA, and that will serve them well when it comes to postseason placement. However, this was only the second time the team encountered a top-10 opponent.

Based on the results of those two games, Iowa has made significant strides since the Dec. 4, 2014, assault at the hands of then-No. 7 Louisville. The Hawkeyes lost by 34 that day and shot only 30 percent, obviously physically overwhelmed by a superior team.

Against No. 5 Maryland, however, the Hawkeyes were in position to win and shot 52 percent on the third-stingiest scoring defense in the conference. With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Hawkeyes are a very good team, and more so, an improving team.

Sitting at 17-4 overall with that No. 8 strength of schedule, Bluder’s team is very much in range of her preseason goal of finishing in the top 16. According to the current NCAA RPI, Iowa is the No. 5 team in the nation; one spot behind Maryland and one spot ahead of defending NCAA champion Connecticut.

So they’re not 21-0, and they’re not in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. That’s not to say, however, that this team isn’t exactly where it wants to be at this point in the season. Even coming off a loss, the Hawkeyes are eager to get back at it.

“Each game we’ve lost this year, we’ve bounced back and gone on a winning streak,” freshman guard Whitney Jennings said. “We’ve just got to do the same thing and bring that mentality to practice that we don’t want to lose our next one, and we need to get on a winning streak.”

Follow @KyleFMann for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa women’s basketball team.


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