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Iowa women's basketball: Hawkeyes ready to embrace important week ahead

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — There’s no controlling when massive opportunities appear on the schedule. Some come early in conference play, some come later. But they all require an intense level of focus.

The Hawkeyes are about to find out if they can answer the bell.

Two weeks into Big Ten Conference action and Iowa (11-3, 2-1) is looking at one of the season’s most important stretches. First comes No. 16 Maryland (11-3, 2-1) on Thursday night, followed by No. 13 Indiana (13-2, 3-0) late Sunday afternoon.

Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle (22) settles in on defense after making a 3-point basket during a NCAA non-conference women's basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Two victories, or maybe even one, would likely have the Hawkeyes ranked for the first time this year.

“It’s really exciting,” sophomore Monika Czinano said. “We get to play against two of the best teams in our conference and really test our skills. We’re all really looking forward to it.”

Back-to-back drubbings has Iowa playing with confidence after opening conference play with a dud at Nebraska. Sunday’s 77-51 win at Northwestern was one of the Hawkeyes’ best showings this year and featured balanced scoring and stifling defense that flustered a surging Wildcats team.

If last week was more gradual progression, this week could be a giant leap forward.

Amid the crowded Big Ten standings, Iowa can break free from the logjam with strong performances against the conference’s elite. The Hawkeyes are one of seven teams tied at 2-1 in league play, a microcosm of how tight the Big Ten could be this year. Indiana is the only unbeaten team.

“We didn’t start out so good against Nebraska, but we’ve had two good performances since then,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “Hopefully, we get some momentum going and some confidence — and that can ride you a long ways.

"… I do think this week is an important week. It’s a big week for us. It’s an opportunity being on our home court.”

Play well this week in front of what should be solid crowds, and these Hawkeyes should gain more confidence. Kathleen Doyle, Makenzie Meyer and other veterans have seen what Carver-Hawkeye Arena's energy can do. Iowa’s young pieces need to absorb that, too.

“I definitely don’t think we’ve maximized our potential yet. We’re on a journey to do that, but as we keep playing in the Big Ten and keep playing really great teams, our freshmen are going to get more experience,” Doyle said. “Just the more games that we play and the more experience everyone is going to get, the more confidence they’ll get.

“We’re just going to keep getting better, and we’ll hopefully be playing our best basketball in March.”

Realistically, Iowa is probably further along now than anticipated in the preseason. After a few turbulent nonconference moments, the Hawkeyes have played well for more than a month. Consistent bracketology appearances and a few poll votes are nice benchmarks.

“These are really great opportunities for us to show what we can do,” Doyle said. “Hopefully, it’ll be a fun week for us. It'll give us reassurance that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing."

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.