Iowa women's basketball: Hawkeyes look to keep undefeated home run afloat

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Every school touts its home-court advantage in one form or another. They’ll claim they have the best fans in the country or the most raucous environment, but all that really matters are the numbers.

Iowa has them.

The 16th-ranked Hawkeyes (17-5, 8-3 Big Ten Conference) are a different animal inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Lisa Bluder’s squad hasn’t lost in Iowa City this year — a flawless 11-0 heading into Thursday’s 8 p.m. showdown versus No. 21 Michigan State.

Iowa center Megan Gustafson (10) passes to a teammate during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Overall, the Hawkeyes are 70-12 in their previous 82 home games dating to the start of the 2015-16 campaign. That’s the last time Iowa finished a season undefeated inside its friendly confines.

“Just being able to protect the home court would be amazing,” senior Megan Gustafson said. “Having that extra support from our fan base, it’d be kind of a way to tell the fans that they matter to us. I think being able to go undefeated at home would definitely prove that.”

There’s only been one close call at home, and Tania Davis saved the day there with her Iowa State game-winner. Otherwise, Iowa has won eight of its other 10 home games by double figures, including a 12-point average margin of victory in conference play.

Defensive intensity stands as the biggest difference in the splits. Just two opponents have scored more than 70 points in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. That’s only happened once — Nebraska’s 71 on Jan. 3 — during the Big Ten slate.

“I just think they enjoy playing at home so much in front of our fans,” Bluder said Wednesday. “Just the comfort of Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where they practice every day. They just play with more joy when they’re on their home court.”

The Hawkeyes have averaged nearly 6,000 fans during Big Ten games, highlighted by a season-high attendance of 9,319 in its last home win over Purdue.

Icy weather coupled with an 8 p.m. tip likely won’t have Thursday’s number that high, but another chance to see the Hawkeyes in a solid ranked showdown should still produce a decent turnout.

A win there, and Iowa would be coming down the home stretch will perfection in sight. The Hawkeyes finish up by hosting Illinois (Feb. 14), Maryland (Feb. 17) and Northwestern (March 3).                

Returning home after road stops only emphasizes the Iowa City advantage. The Hawkeyes played in front of 2,815 on Sunday at Penn State and 2,160 on Friday at Michigan.

“Being a senior and having only a couple games left in Carver is scary to think about. I don’t want to leave,” Gustafson said. “So to finally have another home game is really exciting. I think as a senior, it’s something you really don’t try to take for granted. My time is going by really fast, and I want to enjoy each and every moment — especially here.”

Michigan State is Iowa’s latest double dip, as it circles back through the Big Ten lists. The Spartans took care of business in East Lansing, knocking off the Hawkeyes by 14 on Dec. 30.

Iowa has seen the good and bad of conference rematches so far. It bounced back against Purdue after falling in West Lafayette, but Iowa couldn’t complete a Michigan sweep over the weekend.

Both the Hawkeyes and Spartans have hung tough since their first showdown. Another pivotal cog in the conference race unfolds Thursday as Iowa looks to keep home momentum flowing.

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.