Back-to-back Indiana games another challenge — and another opportunity — for Iowa women's basketball

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — Squeezing in Iowa women’s basketball’s postponed game versus Indiana was always going to take some creative scheduling maneuvering. As a result, the Hawkeyes have a crucial three-day stretch that could have a massive impact — good or bad — on Iowa’s postseason outlook.

“It’s a tough stretch,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said, “but also an opportunity stretch.”

The No. 25 Hawkeyes will face sixth-ranked Indiana twice in barely 48 hours — 3 p.m. Saturday in Bloomington and then 7 p.m. Monday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Even one Iowa victory would do wonders for an NCAA Tournament resume still missing a signature win. Two wins would likely have Lisa Bluder doing flips. Zero, though, and frustration fires back up for a team still planning on a deep March run.

“(The scout) is actually easier because you only have one game to watch (in preparation for the second game). It’s your game, and you’d be watching that anyway. So it actually makes it much simpler than watching the five or six games we’d traditionally watch before an opponent,” Bluder said. “Only having 24 hours (in between the two matchups), they have to travel during that time and we have to travel during that time. I just don’t see it as an advantage or disadvantage for either team.”         

The only way even a somewhat similar scenario could unfold naturally is beginning the Big Ten Tournament with the same foe you faced to end the regular season. That’s actually happened at least twice in Bluder’s Iowa tenure: 2014 against Illinois and 2013 against Northwestern. The Hawkeyes completed the sweep both times, but the challenge wasn’t nearly as daunting as facing an elite Indiana squad getting back to full strength.

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Thursday’s win over Northwestern marked the return of Hoosiers forward Mackenzie Holmes, who had missed the previous eight games with a knee injury. The unanimous first-team all-Big Ten selection from a year ago leads Indiana in scoring at 17.1 points per game.

Iowa hopes for good news on its own injury front. After delivering an ominous health update on McKenna Warnock (hand) following Monday’s loss to Maryland, Bluder was more optimistic her injured player could at least provide something during the Hoosiers home-and-home. Iowa has sorely missed Warnock’s availability, particularly on the glass and the defensive end. Warnock also has the Hawkeyes’ best 3-point shooting percentage in Big Ten play at 50% (20-for-40).

“I’m optimistic that she’ll be in uniform for the Indiana game,” Bluder said. “I don’t know how productive she’ll be, but I know she will be in uniform.”    

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder is preparing her team for a rare home-and-home in about 48 hours with Indiana.

With four days to regroup since stumbling against the Terrapins, perhaps this week was a timely reset for the challenging task ahead. Overall, Iowa will play four games in eight days to end the regular season — with contests at Rutgers and against No. 9 Michigan coming after the Indiana endeavor.

With March on the horizon, it’s time for Iowa to put its best product on the floor.  

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“It’s hard whenever you’re kind of inconsistent. Winning, then losing. Winning, then losing — it’s not your favorite,” Iowa sophomore guard Caitlin Clark said. “But obviously we got a couple days off this week, and now back-to-back games with Indiana. It’ll be challenging, but we’re always up for the opportunity. We still have some chances to pick up a lot of really good wins. That’s the biggest thing. We can win out and set ourselves up for success coming up here.”    

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.