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IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa women have done everything necessary since the Penn State loss to return to the NCAA Tournament track — and that includes not getting embarrassed by No. 3 Maryland last Sunday.

The Hawkeyes now sit at 50 in the RPI rankings, within range of an at-large berth. And that's before they hit the meat of their schedule: games against Michigan, Michigan State, No. 14 Ohio State, Northwestern, Purdue and Indiana. That stretch begins Sunday, after Iowa hosts Rutgers on Thursday.

ESPN’s Charlie Crème pegs Iowa as a 10-seed and, along with Northwestern, one of the "Last Four In."

"Well I’m glad that Charlie feels that way. He’s right a lot of times," Hawkeye coach Lisa Bluder said. "There’s a lot of basketball left to be played. We have eight games left in our conference season plus the conference tournament. I think there’s going to be such a traffic jam in spots four through nine in our conference. It’s going to be probably tough for the selection committee to pick the at-large bids, because there is just going to be a juggernaut in there of our conference teams.

"So every (game) is important and that’s why this Thursday (against Rutgers) is important to us."

At 4-4 in the Big Ten, Iowa has sole possession of sixth place. Losers of three straight and 3-6 in conference, the Scarlet Knights are tied with Penn State for eighth.

The Hawkeyes handed Rutgers the first of those three losses on Jan. 17 in New Jersey. That was Rutgers' first Big Ten home loss.

Iowa shot a season-high 62.5 percent and a staggering 100 percent (7-for-7) in the third quarter. Normally a strong Big Ten team, Rutgers has struggled this season.

"Right now (Rutgers has) a depth issue and they just redshirted a lot of kids and there’s some injuries, and those are things you can’t control always as a coach," Bluder said. "That’s a hard battle when you only have so many bodies. But right now we have to have a great defensive effort because it could pay off in this game."

Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at mbain@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.

Thursday's game

Iowa (13-8, 4-4) vs. Rutgers (6-16, 3-6)

When/where: 7 p.m., Carver-Hawkeye Arena

Online: Big Ten Network Plus

About the game: Despite its lack of depth, Rutgers is still a decent rebounding team. Rutgers beat Iowa, 37-28, on the glass in the teams' first meeting on Jan. 17. Iowa won that game, 71-59.

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