Back home, No. 17 Iowa looks to keep rolling against defensive-minded Purdue

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — After watching the Hawkeyes knock off a ranked Michigan team on New Year’s Eve, Iowa women’s basketball fans have had to patiently wait for Lisa Bluder’s squad to return home.

Iowa's Kathleen Doyle looks for an open teammate during the Hawkeyes' game against Drake at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017.

Saturday’s 3 p.m. showdown with Purdue (BTN) will mark almost two weeks since Iowa’s last home game. The Hawkeyes had back-to-back road contests at Maryland and Illinois after the Michigan win, then were given a mini-bye with no midweek game.

Now well-rested and re-energized, No. 17 Iowa (15-2, 3-1 Big Ten Conference) will look to keep rolling inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where the Hawkeyes are 8-1 this season and have won four straight.

“Expecting a great crowd,” Bluder said this week. “Our Michigan crowd was wonderful. Hoping that we’ll have another good one, because I think this young team could really use it. When you’re down in numbers, you just need all the energy that you can muster, and if you can get that from your fans on your home court, I think that’s really important.

“But where we’re sitting right now at 3-1 — having two of those been against top-20 teams and having played three road games — I’m really happy with where our team is right now.”

Although Purdue (11-7, 2-2) racked up five losses in the season’s first month thanks to a tough nonconference slate, the Boilermakers have found some defensive success early in Big Ten play.

Purdue is yielding just 49.5 points per contest through its first four conference games and has already held two foes in the 30s, something even powerhouses Connecticut, Notre Dame, Baylor and Tennessee haven’t done this year. The Boilermakers’ latest triumph came Wednesday with a 47-33 win over No. 19 Rutgers, just 13 days after Purdue lost to the Scarlet Knights on the road.

“Purdue really prides themselves in their defense,” junior forward Hannah Stewart said. “They might not always get it going (offensively) — they average like (65) points per game, which isn’t that high — but they pride themselves on getting stops, which they have been doing to other teams.

“So we’re going to try to not let that force us into turnovers, which we have been kind of prone to do. But we’re working on that every day.”        

Although Makenzie Meyer (hand) won’t be returning to the floor on Saturday, Iowa’s one-game turnover turnaround should provide a small boost of confidence to a young, still-developing backcourt.

The Hawkeyes went from a season-high in turnovers against Maryland (23) to a season-low versus Illinois (seven), athough those two foes sit on opposite ends of the Big Ten spectrum. Purdue is forcing opponents into about 16 turnovers per game this season, so Iowa will again need to weed out the careless passes and unforced errors.

“Just making sure that we’re keeping our confidence,” redshirt freshman Alexis Sevillian said. “We know how good we are, and going against teams like Illinois and Purdue — where we lost last year — we just need to keep our confidence going into games like that.”         

Iowa already avenged last season’s Illinois slip-up and will look to do the same against Purdue, which throttled the Hawkeyes 72-52 last Feb. 19 in Mackey Arena. The loss was a vital one down the stretch as Iowa tried desperately to claw into the NCAA Tournament before failing to do so.

But this matchup shifts to Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes feel right at home.

“We just need to keep taking one game at a time,” Bluder said, “and keep chipping away at this.”     

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.