After home stumble, No. 20 Iowa heads back out on Big Ten trail
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Time to head back out.
Coming off its first home loss in six weeks, No. 20 Iowa (15-3, 3-2 Big Ten) returns to the Big Ten trail after Saturday’s brief pit stop in Iowa City. Two more trips are on this week’s docket, as the Hawkeyes close out an opening stretch of five road contests in their first seven conference games.
Up first: Tuesday’s trip to Nebraska (12-6, 3-2), where the Cornhuskers are off to a surprisingly solid start in Big Ten play.
“This is a tough stretch,” Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said Monday. “We have two road games (at Nebraska on Tuesday and at Minnesota on Sunday) and then Ohio State as your home game after that (on Jan. 25).
“It’s definitely a tough stretch of games here in a row, but it would be nice to pick up a road victory (this week) because they’re really hard to come by. That’s got to be the goal going into this week.”
A Big Ten cellar-dweller a season ago, Nebraska has delivered an impressive turnaround under second-year head coach Amy Williams. The Cornhuskers went 7-22, won only three conference games and lost 19 of 21 at one point last year, but the current campaign has produced much better results as Nebraska looks to wiggle into the standings’ upper echelon.
The Cornhuskers have already matched last season’s Big Ten win total, and their two conferences losses have both come against ranked teams (Ohio State and Michigan). Four double-figure scorers and a deep bench help form a solid downtown attack that is third in the Big Ten in made 3-pointers (146) and 3-pointers per game (8.1).
“We know that the competition is very good over at Nebraska,” Bluder said. “This is a team that shoots the three really well, has a lot of depth — which is something we don’t have. But they haven’t won a Big Ten game on their home court yet. So looking forward to heading over there.”
After just their third loss of the season, Bluder was pleased with the Hawkeyes’ response in Sunday’s practice. Iowa has bounced back nicely in the immediate following its previous two defeats — it ripped off seven straight after falling to Florida State, then delivered a decent performance at Illinois following a turnover-fueled loss to Maryland.
But for as much talk that’s centered on Megan Gustafson — who tied the Big Ten single-season record with her sixth conference player of the week award Monday — the Purdue loss provided another blueprint of what can happen when help doesn’t come.
Gustafson had more than half of Iowa’s field goals in Saturday's loss to Purdue, but life is certainly tougher if guards aren’t consistently hitting shots or finding points at the rim.
“We’re going to do what it takes to win — and Megan shot 74 percent from the field on Saturday. That’s the person you want to look to — but, boy, it makes her job a lot easier if we have other people involved,” Bluder said. “You stop that one person, and you’ve got us beat. I don’t want to be like that.
“I want to have a great player in Megan, but I want to have a great surrounding cast that can step up and accept responsibility to make shots and make plays. I just think you’re too easy to guard if you have one person doing all the work.”
Through five games, Iowa is currently tied for fifth in what is a logjam in the middle of the Big Ten standings. March is still a bit down the road, but with another tough stretch commencing this week, the Hawkeyes certainly don’t want to slip further down the pack.
Responding on the road is imperative.
“We’ll get back at it,” Gustafson said after the loss, “and just keep that focus.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.