Sandwiched between two losses and two tough treks, Hawkeyes look to get right vs. Purdue

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Calling any mid-January game a must-win is silly with all that remains in this peculiar college basketball season. But given what Iowa has recently endured, and what lurks at week's end, pouncing on Monday's get-right opportunity would go a long way for these Hawkeyes. 

There aren't many scheduling breathers inside the Big Ten, yet Iowa (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten Conference) seemingly has one just five days after its 42-game home winning streak ended in disappointing fashion. Middling Purdue (5-5, 2-4) is in for another weekday matinee, supplying the Hawkeyes with a chance to sandwich a solid performance between two tough losses and two treacherous road trips.     

Iowa enters Monday's 3:30 p.m. affair having lost back-to-back regular-season league games for the first time since January 2018, after upset bids against No. 23 Northwestern and No. 15 Ohio State fell short. The Hawkeyes will end this week with trips to No. 9 Maryland and Rutgers. No one in Iowa gold wants to make that northeastern trek on a three-game skid.

"When you are winning a bunch, you aren’t able to recognize areas where you can grow," junior center Monika Czinano said Friday. "As much as it sucks, losing on our home court is a jump start in the direction we need to go.”

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) reacts in overtime during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game against Ohio State, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

While Lisa Bluder's main critique from the Northwestern loss centered on Iowa's defensive flaws, the Hawkeyes' head coach exited Wednesday's defeat asking for more consistency from her offense that carries lofty expectations each game.

The Ohio State box score may not seem problematic on the surface — 82 points, three players in double figures, 45% shooting from the field — but everything gets magnified when a double-digit second-half lead is blown in overtime. Nine missed free throws, 18 turnovers and general impatience at times were key focal points for a squad still growing.

"Having patience with the ball, being able to run our offense and reverse the ball (must improve)," Bluder said after the Buckeyes loss. "We are not content with running our offense for more than three or four seconds, which doesn't really let the defense have to work that hard. We need to be able to reverse the ball and run our offense more effectively than we are."

There should be plenty of openings to do so against Purdue. After a 5-2 start, the Boilermakers have hit a Big Ten wall in the new year. Three straight losses against Michigan State, Maryland and Indiana — with a Rutgers cancellation mixed in — has made for a turbulent 2021. Those last two defeats have come by an average of 29 points.

Opponents are shooting 43% against Purdue, good for fourth-highest in the conference. The Boilermakers haven't won a game this season scoring fewer than 79 points, suggesting Purdue will want to speed this contest up instead of slow it down.

That should allow Iowa's offense a fine chance to shine.   

“Everyone on the team came into practice and worked their butts off (after the Ohio State loss)," sophomore forward McKenna Warnock said. "There were no excuses. We just worked as hard as we possibly could. We knew there were many aspects we could get better at, and (Friday's practice) was more of a team cohesion day.”

That cohesion has been tested more as of late than at any point this season. Despite whiffing on its last two opportunities for signature wins, Iowa can showcase its maturity with a strong Monday showing.

“We’re disappointed, but we’re a work in progress,” Bluder said. “We’re a young team, we’re going to make mistakes because we haven’t been in those situations before.”

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.