Hawkeyes begin crucial Big Ten stretch Thursday

Matt Cozzi

There are six games remaining on the schedule for the Iowa women's basketball team, including a stretch of three games in six days.

No time to waste.

The 14th-ranked Hawkeyes (19-4, 10-2 Big Ten) are at Nebraska (17-6, 7-5) at 8 p.m. Thursday, with matchups to follow on Sunday against Indiana (13-10, 3-9) and Feb. 17 at Minnesota (18-6, 7-5).

"It's kind of a marathon week beginning Thursday for us," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Tuesday at her weekly press conference. "Kind of unusual how they play out. … We have to be careful with our players' legs in practice (Tuesday) and (Wednesday) with knowing what's coming up. The first two games are pretty normal, it's just that third one that just has me a little nervous."

Iowa will be playing both Indiana and Minnesota for the first time this season during that stretch, but already played and defeated Nebraska 78-72 in overtime Jan. 26.

The turnaround will be quick, but most notably, the time to prepare for the Hoosiers and Gophers will be limited.

Despite losing leading scorer Rachel Banham in December due to a torn knee ligament, Minnesota is entrenched in the race for a top spot in the Big Ten standings. The Gophers are currently tied for fifth in the league.

"Usually you have two days to prepare for a team," Bluder said. "We only had one day to prepare for Northwestern (in January), but it was the second time we played them, so the team is more comfortable and more familiar with them. And (Minnesota runs) a lot of sets, ironically. It's a team you'd love to have time to prepare for because they run so many sets.

Traditionally, Monday is a day off and you get to rest. Now, no rest. And then having travel the same day. 8 o'clock on Thursday, 5 o'clock on Sunday, 8 o'clock on Tuesday — it's like, are you kidding? It's like an NBA schedule."

But the upcoming slate may not matter much considering the season Iowa is having. The Hawkeyes have been ranked in the top 25 for the entire season, and a 19-4 record paired with formidable opponents ranks the black and gold sixth in the nation in RPI.

Starters Samantha Logic, Melissa Dixon, Whitney Jennings, Ally Disterhoft and Bethany Doolittle pace Bluder's club to an average of 79.7 points per game, ranking third in the Big Ten and ninth in the nation.

The critical stretch run ensues Thursday.

"Whatever happens on Thursday night, hopefully we come out of there with a win, but your memory has to be short-lived," Jennings said. "Win, OK. Lose, OK. You need to move on and get ready for the next game."

Reach Matt Cozzi at mcozzi@press-citizen.com or 319-887-5409, and follow him on Twitter at @matt_cozzi.