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Lisa Bluder breaks down what's gone well through Iowa's first two games Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — One final tune-up before things heat up.

That’s the Saturday agenda for No. 17 Iowa (2-0), which returns home to face North Carolina Central at 7 p.m. after this week’s road conquest. The Hawkeyes should cruise once more before their nonconference slate picks up steam in the coming weeks.

“It’s kind of like a final tune-up I think, getting ready for the next games,” senior Megan Gustafson said. “I know (North Carolina Central) is a good team — so we definitely can’t let up at all — especially going into the Bahamas next week where we’ll face two really, really good teams.

“But again, we’re just going to go into Saturday like any other game.”

After Saturday, Iowa begins a run where it could face four Power Five opponents in a 13-day stretch. The Hawkeyes head to the Bahamas next week for the Junkanoo Jam, which pits Iowa against West Virginia (Nov. 23) and then the winner of Eastern Kentucky-Florida State (Nov. 24). A Nov. 29 trip to top-ranked Notre Dame comes next, capped by a Dec. 5 home date with Iowa State. The Hawkeyes’ only non-Power Five game in that stretch is Dec. 2 against Robert Morris.

Currently, the Mountaineers, Seminoles, Fighting Irish and Cyclones are a combined 12-0. That stretch makes for a perfect chance for Iowa to further prove its worth this season, but the Hawkeyes must be clicking in all facets heading in.

That’s where Saturday comes in.

“We have a big, heavy stretch coming up here, and we want to be as prepared as possible for that,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Friday. “I think we’re doing what we need to be doing, but you never know until you get there.”   

All evidence so far has been positive. Through two games, Iowa has better than a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (56 assists to 27 turnovers) and is shooting 49 percent from deep (20-for-41). There were defensive miscues in the season-opener’s second half against Oral Roberts, but those vanished at Western Kentucky.

Iowa’s veteran guards, particularly Makenzie Meyer and Alexis Sevillian, who combined for 32 points Tuesday — have helped make Kathleen Doyle’s absence a non-factor so far.

Oh, and Megan Gustafson is still pretty good. Asked Friday about her recent 13-for-13 shooting performance, Iowa’s all-American shrugged it off as another day at the office.   

“A lot of people have been really excited about it — and I am, too — but at the same time, I kind of see myself doing that,” Gustafson said. “It’s kind of like a normal thing for me. So when I don’t get that, it’s like, ‘Oh, man. How did I miss that?’

“I know it’s unrealistic to have those kind of expectations, but when I’m in the game and in practice and in the zone, I expect that of myself.” 

More dominance should unfold this weekend. North Carolina Central (0-3) has three double-digit losses to three mid-major schools. The Eagles have no starter taller than 6-foot-1.

Get in, get out — then get on, to the tougher road ahead.

“We’re definitely focused and also just working on ourselves and trying to improve ourselves — not just on offense but defensively,” sophomore guard Zion Sanders said. “We’re just trying to get better every single possession so that we are ready for those Power Five games coming up in the future.”   

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

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