After schedule disruption, Iowa Hawkeyes return to normalcy vs. Northwestern

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — As much as the Hawkeye women hoped for as few disruptions as possible, Iowa had to know this strange season hasn’t spared many in terms of shaking things up. Just about everyone has encountered a scheduling issue.

The Hawkeyes finally hit theirs last week. Back-to-back trips to Maryland and Rutgers were postponed — one out of presidential inauguration caution, one because of COVID-19 — leaving Iowa (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten Conference) with no basketball action for nine straight days. The Hawkeyes mixed in some rest with extended scouting.

Now, everyone is getting restless.

"Looking forward to just getting back on the court," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder stressed. "... We actually took last Friday and Saturday off, which isn't a bad thing this time of year. Getting two days off on a weekend is something these players don't get very often.

"Last week, we scrimmaged a lot — tried to keep them in shape, tried to keep them fresh by adding some new things. And then we've had some extra time to get ready for Northwestern."        

Iowa plunges right back into conference play with an opportunity to secure its most signature league win. With Thursday’s 5 p.m. home showdown against No. 23 Northwestern, the Hawkeyes have a chance to offset their 77-67 loss at Welsh-Ryan Arena earlier this month — while also securing their first win against someone currently above them in the Big Ten standings.  

Iowa center Monika Czinano celebrates with teammate Sharon Goodman (40) after the Hawkeyes defeated Purdue on Jan. 18 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

The Wildcats, though, are a daunting matchup — as Iowa learned Jan. 9 with its worst offensive output this season. That road stumble is the only time the Hawkeyes haven’t cracked 70 points. It’s the only time Iowa has attempted fewer than 10 free throws. It’s the only time freshman sensation Caitlin Clark (25.8 points per game) failed to reach double figures as well.  

A dissection followed that loss. Lessons learned resurfaced throughout the last week as Iowa maximized part of its break with thorough Northwestern preparation, more so than other games. The Hawkeyes feel they’ve recalibrated for the Wildcat rematch.

"That game obviously wasn't my best, and I kind of just got in my own head a little," said Clark, who had just eight points on 3-for-12 shooting in the loss. "So just watching the film, I think there are a lot of things we can do better as a team. We'll clean things up and be ready to go at our place. 

"A big thing was Northwestern was just glued to me the whole game. It was hard to find a shot, and that was something I hadn't really seen all year. That's just going to be the same thing again."     

Iowa's lone offensive bright spot from Evanston was Monika Czinano’s career-high 28 points. The junior center took advantage of the Wildcats’ size discrepancy in hitting 13 of 14 shots with 12 rebounds — and Iowa knows it must lean on that attack plan once more.      

On Northwestern's roster, only one player stands 6-foot-3 or taller. Four of the five Wildcat starters are under 6 feet.    

"We definitely have a size advantage at the four and the five (position)," Czinano said. "That was big in our last game (against Northwestern), pulling down rebounds and being able to shoot over people. They bring in some taller girls off the bench, but overall, they have a smaller roster. That allows us bigs to capitalize on it."      

Iowa is happy to have something to capitalize on once again. The benefits of an in-season pause have worn off. The Hawkeyes are ready to jump back in.  

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.