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Iowa women's basketball: With Nebraska next, Hawkeyes feel fortunate about Monika Czinano's injury

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — All things considered, Iowa and Monika Czinano are breathing easy.

It could’ve been catastrophic when the sophomore center’s right ankle bent perpendicular to her leg during the Hawkeyes’ Jan. 26 win over Michigan State. Czinano writhed in pain before ominously hobbling to the bench. Could Iowa survive without its top interior presence?

Ten days later, Czinano stood in front of a media throng — a wide smile plastered across her face. She’s back practicing and could re-join the starting lineup when the No. 20 Hawkeyes (18-4, 9-2 Big Ten Conference) face Nebraska (15-7, 5-6) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The final damage on Czinano’s injury — one game missed, one game limited.

Iowa will take that.

“Yes, I do (feel fortunate),” Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said Wednesday. “We held her out of the Penn State game (last Thursday), and she played a bit in the Michigan game (last Sunday). She was slow in that game, but I do think she’ll be close to 100 percent, maybe not that far, but a lot better than she was last week.”                     

Iowa center Monika Czinano (25) pumps up the crowd during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

The Hawkeyes didn’t need Czinano in routing Penn State by double figures, but her partial absence against Michigan hurt Iowa badly.

Czinano managed only 16 minutes off the bench, contributing six points and three rebounds before fouling out. As a result, forward Naz Hillmon had an emphatic day — 30 points and 10 rebounds — as the Wolverines halted Iowa’s nine-game winning streak.

Against a Nebraska team featuring two post starters 6-foot-2 or taller — including 6-foot-5 center Katie Cain — Iowa needs Czinano back producing the way she was before the ankle twist.  

"When we’re playing games, you have to be able to go 100 percent and that’s why I was able to play a little bit on Sunday," said Czinano, who added that her ankle was severely bruised and swollen in the days after the injury. “Every day, it’s gotten a little bit better. So I’m really excited to play on Thursday.

“It feels good. It’ll get assessed at practice. But all things considered, it’s definitely a lot better.”  

So are the Hawkeyes since they last faced Nebraska.

The Dec. 28 contest in Lincoln — a 78-69 Huskers win — saw Iowa shoot 37 percent from the field and 30 percent from deep. It was a day to forget for Bluder’s starting guards, which combined to shoot 7-for-32 shooting with 10 missed treys. Certainly not the way a team wants to start conference play.

Until Sunday, though, Iowa hadn’t lost since.   

“We gained a lot of experience since then, and we’ve been able to hang with the big dogs and beat some really good teams,” senior Makenzie Meyer said. “We’re obviously now tied atop the Big Ten, so that should give us a lot of confidence going forward.”

Iowa enters Thursday’s game in a three-way tie with Maryland and Northwestern — two teams the Hawkeyes have already beaten. All three appeared on the selection committee’s first top-16 reveal Monday evening: Maryland at No. 8, Iowa at No. 15 and Northwestern at No. 16.

Postseason vibes are slowly creeping in with March less than a month away. But Iowa knows nothing is guaranteed in this conference. A tight race for Big Ten supremacy, hosting possibilities and beyond will come down to nightly focus against every foe.

“I want every game to be approached like March,” Bluder said. “I want my team to be thinking, ‘let’s play at a championship level’ all the time.

“I think human nature, you probably can’t help to get excited when March comes around. But truly, us coaches have been doing this long enough to know that if you don’t do your work in February and January, March isn’t much fun.”

Grinding through the remaining schedule without Czinano wouldn’t have been much fun, either. However, it appears Iowa is on the other side of the season’s first health scare.

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.