Iowa's Makenzie Meyer talks about the Hawkeyes' 79-66 win over Drake. Dargan Southard/Press-Citizen
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Although multiple injuries have undoubtedly made things tougher, Iowa’s on-court results really haven’t suffered since its lone loss to Florida State on Nov. 29. The No. 21 Hawkeyes have won six straight, with a bevy of blowout victories.
Now, it’s time for a test.
Looking to start 2-0 in the Big Ten for the third time in four seasons, Iowa (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten) will face a stiff challenge in Sunday’s conference home opener, when it battles No. 19 Michigan (12-2, 1-0) at 3 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
The Wolverines are coming off Thursday’s 89-69 blowout of Penn State and have won eight in a row — their only losses coming to then-No. 5 Louisville and then-No. 3 Notre Dame. Michigan boasts a potent inside-out threat in 5-foot-7 guards Katelynn Flaherty and 6-foot-5 center Hallie Thome, who are averaging 22.7 and 16.6 points per game respectively.
“We know the competition gets a lot harder,” Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said Friday. Having the opportunity to play at home is a great thing on New Year’s Eve day, and we’re looking forward to playing a great team.
“Of course, Katelynn Flaherty is one of the best scorers in the conference. I think, sometimes, she’s gotten overshadowed a little bit because of (Kelsey) Mitchell from Ohio State, but Katelynn is as good of a scorer as anybody who we’ve seen thus far this year. And she'll be a tough challenge obviously. And then Hallie Thome inside — terrific post player.”
Iowa conquered its first test since adding sophomore guard Makenzie Meyer to the injury list with a left hand fracture suffered in practice Wednesday. She joined the sidelined Tania Davis on the bench, which left the Hawkeyes with just three healthy guards for Thursday’s 56-46 win at Wisconsin.
As a result, sophomore forward Amanda Ollinger made her first career start and spent more time on the perimeter, as did fellow reserve forward Carly Mohns. That duo combined for 30 minutes against the Badgers and will almost certainly be needed for productive minutes again on Sunday, even though both have had their roles change quickly with little time to adjust.
“You can’t change a lot without practice,” said Bluder, who added that Ollinger will start again versus Michigan. “But we’ve got to prepare for Michigan, so you’ve got to take care of that.
“You don’t want to go a long time on the floor because of their legs, and so there’s not a whole lot of time to make adjustments on these days, except for watching film or doing light workouts because we just can’t afford to get anybody else hurt. We can’t afford to go hard in practice We’ve got to save our legs for games.”
That makes Sunday’s test all the more daunting.
“We’re just trying to win games,” Bluder said. “Every game is a challenge, and this will be an incredibly tough game.”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.