Hawkeyes set sights on season sweep of Northwestern
Approaching the halfway point of the Big Ten season, Iowa has handled nearly every scenario thrown its way.
The Hawkeyes hit the conference halfway mark Thursday with another new challenge.
No. 20 Iowa (16-3, 7-1 Big Ten) will face it first rematch of the season Thursday when the Hawkeyes travel to Evanston, Ill. to take on Northwestern (14-5, 4-4) at 7 p.m. at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
"I'm trying to motivate them with this is something new," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "We haven't been able to sweep anybody in the Big Ten yet this year so this could be our first time that we have a sweep."
Iowa has done just about everything else through its first eight Big Ten games.
The Hawkeyes are coming off their biggest win of the season over No. 16 Nebraska in overtime and bring a five-game win streak into the rematch with the Wildcats.
Iowa didn't get much time to celebrate snapping an eight-game losing skid to the Cornhuskers on Monday.
The Hawkeyes also didn't have much time to prepare for its rematch with Northwestern.
Following a mandatory day off on Tuesday, Iowa had just one practice to prep for the Wildcats.
"I think most coaches would always love to have two days to prepare for every game, but at the same time I think it was better to give our players a day off after that kind of physically and emotionally demanding game against Nebraska," Bluder said. "I don't know if anybody on our team slept, I certainly didn't that night."
Monday's win left Iowa alone in second place in the Big Ten standings, trailing league-leading Maryland (8-0) by one game entering play on Thursday.
With a showdown with the fifth-ranked Terrapins looming on Sunday Iowa can't afford to overlook a Northwestern squad it beat by 13 points back on Jan. 14.
"It is a dangerous game there is no doubt about it," Bluder said. "You have Nebraska a top-25 team and you have a Maryland a top-5 team and sandwiched in between you have Northwestern on the road and you just cannot look ahead to Maryland."
Since losing to Iowa 83-70 two weeks ago, Northwestern has lost two of three games including a 76-75 setback to previously winless in conference Penn State on Sunday.
Iowa shot 51 percent from the field in the first meeting against a Northwestern squad that enters Thursday's game leading the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense.
The 83 points by the Hawkeyes — highlighted by Bethany Doolittle's career-high 29 — in the Jan. 14 meeting remain the most allowed by Northwestern in Big Ten play this season.
"The biggest thing is that every coach can make adjustments now," Bluder said. "We see what worked the first game and now we can make adjustments and that is what the real challenge is."
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
No. 20 Iowa (16-3, 7-1 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (14-5, 4-4 Big Ten)
• Specifics — 7 p.m. Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Ill.
• Following the game — TV: BTN Plus. Radio: KXIC (800 AM), WMT (AM 600), WHO (1040 AM) Hawkeye Radio Network. Live scoring: www.hawkeyesports.com.
• Preview — Off to its best conference start since 1995-1996 season, Iowa brings a five-game winning streak into its first rematch of the season. The Hawkeyes knocked off Northwestern 83-70 in Iowa City on Jan. 14.