There is no denying how important 3-0 is to Lisa Bluder.
A win at Michigan (8-5, 0-2) on Thursday would keep Iowa (12-2, 2-0) on the short list atop the Big Ten standings.
It would be another boost for Iowa’s postseason resume, build confidence and help the Hawkeyes in various rankings.
It would also be a career first for the most successful coach in program history.
Bluder has never started a Big Ten season 3-0 in 15 attempts at Iowa. The Hawkeyes will try to snap that string at 6 p.m. at Chrisler Center in Ann Arbor.
“3-0 would be great. We’d love to be 3-0 just getting a win over Michigan, getting another road Big Ten win,” Bluder said. “3-0 is special because, first of all, you don’t get to start your Big Ten season that many times, so there isn’t that many times to do it.”
Iowa has won its first two conference games twice under Bluder, including last season, but has never won three straight to open conference play.
The Hawkeyes won consecutive games to open Big Ten play in 2004-05 but fell 77-71 to Penn State.
Last year, it was a 73-61 loss at Illinois that thwarted Iowa’s shot at 3-0.
This season, a Michigan team that has lost five of its last six games stands in the way of the Hawkeyes’ first 3-0 start in league play since the 1997-1998 season.
“That’s unreal, as much success as our coaches and this program has had,” Iowa senior Kali Peschel said. “You think it’s such a small thing, but it would be so fun to do that for our coaches and this team, and we are playing really well right now. So I don’t see why we can’t go ahead and do it.”
Peschel is right — Iowa certainly appears equipped to snap the streak of 17 consecutive seasons without a 3-0 conference start.
The Hawkeyes posted a 74-68 win at Nebraska in their Big Ten opener and downed Rutgers 69-65 on Monday to move to 2-0.
Iowa is shooting 50 percent from the field, outrebounding opponents by 12.5 and outscoring foes 30-14 at the free throw line in its two Big Ten wins. Their win streak is at four games overall
“Those first two wins are huge confidence-builders, especially for a young team,” Iowa junior Ally Disterhoft said. “It was kind of a bit iffy at the beginning to see how we’d start off in Big Ten play, that was kind of a question mark. But I think we’ve really been playing some of our best team basketball as of late, and I think if we can continue doing that, good things will happen.”
For Iowa to get to 3-0, the Hawkeyes' defense must be up to the task.
Fueled by sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty, who is averaging 21 points per game, Michigan ranks third in the conference in scoring at 80.1 points per contest. Flaherty has scored 20 or more points seven times in 13 games.
“It’s really just slowing down their offense and focusing in on those scorers,” Disterhoft said. “They have a few girls that will put up a lot of points if you let them, so just making sure we can identity where they are at on the floor.”
Flaherty is shooting 41 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the foul line.
“She is an unbelievable scorer,” Bluder said of Flaherty. “I got to know here a little bit through USA basketball trials and she is just a great kid too. She has a step back 3, she can penetrate she can pull up she is really an amazing scorer.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
Iowa (12-2, 2-0) at Michigan (8-5, 0-2)
WHEN: Thursday, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Mich.
STAT LEADERS: Iowa – Ally Disterhoft 17.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg; Chase Coley 10.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg. Michigan – Katelynn Flaherty 21.0 ppg, 2.1 apg; Hallie Thome 11.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg.
WHAT TO WATCH: Michigan has lost four of its past five games since starting the season 7-0, including three straight losses that have all been decided by two points or less or in overtime.
The Wolverines opened Big Ten play with a 65-63 loss to Purdue before falling at Indiana 77-69 in overtime.
Iowa has won three straight over Michigan, including a 76-70 win in Iowa City last season. The Hawkeyes last lost in Crisler Center in 2010.