Next task at hand: Hawkeyes looking to turn the page against No. 13 Maryland

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It’s what every coach hopes to have: a team that can swiftly turn the page regardless of the previous outcome. Crushing injury, move on. Devastating loss, move on. Monumental win, move on.  

Iowa teammates huddle up before their game against Michigan at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017.

Iowa has thrived at just that this season and will need to do so again this week, as the No. 17 Hawkeyes (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten) prepare for their second ranked foe in five days. After knocking off then-No. 19 Michigan on Sunday, Iowa heads east for a Thursday night showdown at No. 13 Maryland (13-2, 2-0).    

“That’s what we do all the time — whether it’s a win or a loss, we treat it the same,” Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said. “We have that night to enjoy it. But Tuesday when we had practice, we basically spent the first five or 10 minutes talking about that past game — and then it’s, ‘OK, pass on the next scouting report. That one’s over, move onto the next.’”

The next one is another sizeable challenge, as Maryland has emphatically ripped through the season’s first two months with little resistance. It hasn’t faced the most daunting lineup — the Terrapins’ strength of schedule is 188, according to Jeff Sagarin — but Maryland has repeatedly showcased its depth and potency so far.

Despite losing their top three scorers off last season’s Sweet 16 squad, the Terrapins have reloaded and currently boast seven players averaging double figures. Maryland has eclipsed triple digits four times on its 11-game winning streak and has 10 victories by 20-plus points, albeit against mostly low-level competition.

The only losses? Defending national champion South Carolina and perennial powerhouse Connecticut.

“They’re starting only one senior, but again, they’re an excellent team because they have all-Americans coming in,” Bluder said. “Blair Watson, their small forward, has been playing very well lately. In her last five games, she’s been averaging 20 points per game.

“Their numbers are so crazy because they’ve beaten people by a lot of points, so their numbers almost seem out of whack. It’s hard to believe that they’re shooting this well (47 percent). Our defense is really going to be challenged. Our rebounding is really going to be challenged. Those are two areas I think we really have to focus on, as well as defense in transition.”   

Bluder pegged Thursday’s matchup as the Hawkeyes’ toughest road test to date and likely of the season. It was a trip that was supposed to include some Washington D.C. sightseeing and a VIP tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, but mechanical issues with Iowa’s plane pushed the departure day from Tuesday to Wednesday. The itinerary now features just basketball.

Iowa has fared decently on the road, having ground out wins over Iowa State (61-55) and Wisconsin (56-46) while throttling Northern Iowa (71-47). Nothing has changed on the Hawkeyes’ health front, and Bluder’s squad will again be shorthanded as it looks for the program’s first 3-0 Big Ten start since the 1997-98 season.

“We’re down a couple players right now — we’re small in numbers — but we just keep believing in each other,” said junior Megan Gustafson, who won her fifth conference player of the week award on Tuesday. “I think that’s the most important thing.”   

Now, it’s about flipping forward.

“Our players have done a good job of being able to enjoy their successes, but at the same time focus on the next task at hand,” Bluder said. “It’s the way it is every time. Whether we win or lose, it’s the same way.”        

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 msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.