Cornhuskers, Hawkeyes ready for second round

Ryan Murken

It can take years to build a rivalry.

The Iowa and Nebraska women's basketball teams have forged a pretty solid one in just three seasons.

A rivalry that got a lot more interesting last month.

Iowa snapped an eight-game losing skid to the Cornhuskers with its first Big Ten win over its western neighbor on Jan. 26.

That 78-72 overtime win by the Hawkeyes didn't just snap a losing streak it removed a Big Red monkey from the Hawkeyes' back.

"It's nice to have the monkey off our back," Iowa senior Bethany Doolittle said. "We broke the seal with that win earlier this season because it was definitely something that was in the back of our minds that we had that losing streak against them."

With the losing streak against the Cornhuskers a thing of the past Iowa will try to start a streak in the opposite direction when they go for the season sweep of Nebraska on Thursday.

The two teams will meet for the second time in 16 days on Thursday when No. 14 Iowa (19-4, 10-2 Big Ten) heads west to face No. 22 Nebraska (17-6, 6-5) at 8 Lincoln.

"I think it is a big benefit to us that we have that monkey off our back," Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. "For one it gives us confidence going in there and also no one is talking about it anymore, now we are talking about a sweep instead."

Iowa's streak-stopping win over Nebraska and an ankle injury to Rachel Theriot have dramatically changed the landscape of the rematch.

Two weeks ago, Nebraska came to Iowa City ranked four spots ahead of Iowa, riding a five-game conference winning streak and unbeaten against the Hawkeyes as conference rivals.

Since that Jan. 26 meeting Iowa is 3-1, has climbed six spots in the top-25 poll while Nebraska has gone 2-2, slipped six spots in the poll and brings a two-game losing skid into Thursday's rematch.

None of that has changed the Hawkeyes' approach.

"It's still the same mindset regardless of what happened the first game or what has changed since then," Doolittle said. "Nebraska is a really good team, I'm not really worried about rankings or standings because we know anytime we play them it's a huge game with high intensity."

Nebraska's two-game losing streak comes with an asterisk.

Theriot injured her ankle in practice and missed each of the Cornhuskers' past two games, road losses at No. 18 Rutgers and No. 5 Maryland.

Without its leading scorer, Nebraska lost those two road games by a combined 15 points while allowing 105 points.

The 59 points scored by Maryland in a 12-point win over Nebraska on Sunday was a Big Ten-low for the Terrapins.

"They were pretty excited about their defense in both those games," Bluder said. "It was a season-low conference wise for Maryland. I think they are really happy with their defense and I think they just put all their focus on defense with Rachel being out."

Nebraska called Theriot and her 16.5 points per game mark a game-time decision for Thursday.

Bluder and the Hawkeyes prepared as if Theriot would play and as usual play well.

"She's a great player so you have to prepare for her to play," Iowa senior Melissa Dixon said. "We expect her to play."

If Theriot plays or doesn't play, losing skid or no losing skid, it doesn't change that much for an Iowa team that is off to its best conference start since 1995-96.

The Hawkeyes, who have won two straight and are coming off an 87-75 win at Wisconsin, know Nebraska presents a huge challenge.

The Cornhuskers are currently locked in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Big Ten standings, three games behind Iowa.

"We know that it's going to be a competitive game and a tough game especially playing on the road," Dixon said.

Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.

No. 14 Iowa (19-4, 10-2 Big Ten) at No. 22 Nebraska (17-6, 7-5 Big Ten)

• Specifics — 8 p.m. Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, Neb.

• Following the game — TV:BTN. Radio: KXIC (800 AM), WMT (AM 600), WHO (1040 AM) Hawkeye Radio Network. Live scoring:

• Preview — Iowa snapped an eight-game losing skid to Nebraska with a 78-72 overtime win in Iowa City on Jan. 26. The status of Nebraska junior point guard Rachel Theriot will be a factor tonight. The Cornhuskers' leading scorer is a game-time decision after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury.