Iowa women's basketball: Hawkeyes face tall task, immediate rebound chance vs. No. 15 Ohio State
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The double-edged sword that comes with playing inside a conference boasting depth like the Big Ten currently has is that the schedule rarely offers a chance for a breather. It also means, after a stumble, teams usually don't have to wait around long for a quality bounce-back opportunity.
That's exactly where Iowa resides.
Following Saturday's dud at then-No. 23 Northwestern, the Hawkeyes (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten Conference) immediately get another shot at securing a ranked win with No. 15 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) coming to town for Wednesday's 3 p.m. tip. This rare weekday matinee gives Iowa a shot to possibly join its fellow Big Ten members in the women's basketball poll. As of this week, the league has five ranked teams — with the Hawkeyes and Michigan State also receiving votes.
How will Iowa handle its first real dose of adversity?
"You can't get super down after one loss," freshman Caitlin Clark said this week. "You've just got to bounce back, flush it and learn from it. I think there were a lot of things we saw and (Northwestern) exposed us in that we can learn from and take away and get better at.
"... We've just got to keep staying confident. We're a great team. We have another big challenge up ahead on Wednesday, and we'll be ready to go."
While the Northwestern loss saw the Hawkeyes deliver by far their worst offensive output this year — scoring 25 points fewer than their season average — the prevailing theme from Lisa Bluder and her players was the need for defensive improvement.
Northwestern shot nearly 50% from the field and from deep, magnifying the need for Iowa's offense to deliver a flawless performance. Because it didn't, there's been added Hawkeye emphasis on becoming a more well-rounded unit.
"We learned that we can't just rely on our offense and that we have to play both ends of the court," Bluder said. "I hope that's a lesson that came through loud and clear for them."
If it didn't, Ohio State will put Iowa's 42-game home winning streak in serious jeopardy. Despite COVID-19 issues cancelling two games and postponing four more — including the scheduled Dec. 18 showdown between Iowa and Ohio State — the Buckeyes have dominated the games they've played.
Ohio State recently leapfrogged Iowa as the second-highest scoring Big Ten team, averaging 90.8 points per game through six contests. Its 33.2 average margin of victory leads the league Its 51.9 shooting percentage does too. A staggering five Buckeyes average double figures, spearheaded by sophomore guard Jacy Sheldon and Hungarian forward Dorka Juhasz.
"This is the best team we will face thus far," Bluder said. "They've only played six games, so it's a little bit hard to prepare for them because you're not exactly sure who's going to be playing and who's going to be in the starting lineup. We're assuming that Dorka is going to be back. She's been out for a while, and she's a key player for them. She hasn't played the last two games, so we really don't know what to expect there. But she is a tremendous power forward who scores and rebounds well, shoots threes and posts up.
"And then Jacy Sheldon, I love this guard. She is an outstanding off-guard who can shoot the ball so well and has a step-back three. The thing about Ohio State is it's very balanced, though. You really can't help off too many people because they'll make you pay if you do."
Over parts of four seasons, Iowa has made so many foes pay when they trek into Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Teams sporting gaudy records and solid rankings have fallen victim to the Hawkeyes' home prestige time after time, creating an intangible aura that Iowa is going to find a victorious path even when things seem dire.
Wednesday afternoon could go either way. Will the Hawkeyes fully wash away the Northwestern disappointment or let it linger into another loss?
"A lot of people just see us as a really young team, which we are, but we don't take that as an excuse," sophomore McKenna Warnock said. We just work harder every single day. We've surprised people, and I think we'll continue to get better and hopefully surprise people even more."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.