Indiana's COVID issues turn Iowa women's basketball's focus to Minnesota

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — They've become numb to the unfortunate announcements, even as the COVID schedule disruptions continue to pile up this season. So it goes for the Iowa women's basketball team right now. 

The latest postponement stings maybe more than any. Sunday's game against No. 6 Indiana would've featured a raucous crowd and a chance to send a loud statement — but that's out the window after Tuesday's news that Indiana continues to deal with COVID issues within their program. 

The Hawkeyes (10-4, 4-1 Big Ten Conference) have now had six games either postponed or axed altogether, three of which have occurred within the past month. Two conference games have been rescheduled — Penn State from Dec. 30 to Jan. 25, Illinois from Jan. 2 to Feb. 12 — but the remaining calendar offers little hope Sunday's game against the Hoosiers will find a rescheduled spot. 

Whether caused by its own COVID issues or someone else's, Iowa is certainly aware it isn't the only school dealing with multiple disruptions. But that does little to mitigate the frustration. 

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"I just don't know how it's going to be made up," Bluder said Wednesday. "There's no time in the schedule to make up a lot of these games. That's pretty disappointing because I know we were going to have a great crowd out here on Sunday.    

"... The conference ultimately has the final say in everything, but I think it's good when schools and coaches try to work it out among themselves. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn't. I think the conference is going to have to take more of a role in rescheduling if we want to get in as many games as possible." 

Getting in as many games as possible remains Iowa's goal. The Hawkeyes already added one game on the fly (a Jan. 2 win over Evansville) and are still hoping for something to materialize this weekend. Bluder said Iowa is still "trying really hard to find a game for Saturday or Sunday," with herself and deputy athletics director Barbara Burke collaborating alongside the Big Ten in a potential reshuffling effort. 

"I'm not used to it," point guard Caitlin Clark said, "but I don't get that upset anymore (when postponements are announced). It's out of our control obviously. But we have been playing well and were going to get a top-10 team on our home floor on a Sunday.

"It was definitely something we were looking forward to obviously."

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However, Sunday's what-could've-been environment wasn't the only reason for intrigue this week — particularly in the Czinano household. While trips to Minneapolis — which the Hawkeyes will make Thursday for a 7 p.m. tip on BTN  — are always sentimental for Iowa's lone Minnesota native, an added element is in play this time around. 

Iowa center Monika Czinano (25) scores over Nebraska forward Isabelle Bourne (34) during their Jan. 16 game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Monika Czinano's younger sister Maggie is a freshman for Minnesota (9-9, 2-4). A large family contingent is expected from Czinano's hometown of Watertown, Minnesota — which sits about 35 miles west of Williams Arena. 

Safe to say this one has been circled for a while.       

"I don't know how many families can say they played against their sibling in a Power Five conference and one of the best conferences in the entire country. It's crazy," Iowa's Czinano said Wednesday. "And when she committed, I was so excited. I'm most excited that both of us are living out our dreams. 

"There is a lot of emotion connected to it for me, and it's just separating myself from it a little bit and really focusing on, 'OK, this is still a Big Ten game. This is a road game. It's going to be hard.' You just have to have to go into it with the same mentality. It is very emotional, but for me, I have to detach from it a little bit on game day."    

With uncertainty still hovering over this college basketball season from one day to the next, that's a challenge Czinano is more than grateful to have.   

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.