Two games into the Big Ten season, things were going precisely the way Iowa imagined.
They were going well, in fact, for two games and three quarters of conference action.
Iowa started 2-0 in conference play and led Michigan by 10 points Jan. 7 in Ann Arbor.
But the Wolverines used a 30-point fourth quarter to rally for a 82-75 win. And thus began a frustrating stretch that has seen Iowa lose five of six games, including three straight for the first time since 2013.
On Thursday, Iowa (13-7, 3-5) gets a chance to end that skid against the team that started it when Michigan (11-8, 3-5) visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the second meeting between the teams in less than three weeks.
“The loss to Michigan kind of started our rough stretch, being up by that much and then having them come back,” Iowa freshman Megan Gustafson said. “I think that we are really excited to play them again and to pick up the intensity, especially late in the game on Thursday.”
The origins of the Hawkeyes’ recent troubles trace back to that fated final frame.
Michigan’s 30 points was the highest total allowed by Iowa in a quarter this season, until Michigan State scored 34 in the fourth quarter three games later.
Michigan won two of three games following its rally. Iowa is hoping to use Thursday’s home meeting with the Wolverines for a similar springboard.
“It would be kind of a cleansing win based off how the first meeting went, but we just need to get that win to get us back on the right trail,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “Winning covers up a lot of problems. Winning covers up a lot of aches and pains. And as soon as we get that win, I really think we are going to be heading in the right direction, and hopefully it comes this week.”
Since the loss at Michigan, Iowa has gone 1-4 while being outscored by an average of nearly 11 points per game.
That doesn’t mean Iowa hasn’t been close to turning things around.
Iowa let a fourth-quarter lead slip away in a seven-point loss at No. 18 Michigan State and trailed by six entering the fourth quarter in its most recent loss, a 90-73 setback Sunday at Purdue.
The way the Hawkeyes have lost their last three has made this skump tougher to handle.
“It’s been a tough stretch and it has been frustrating, but I think we are just eager to get back out there and put things together because we know that we can,” Iowa junior Ally Disterhoft said. “That’s why it’s so frustrating, because we’ve been so close. Now, it’s just about putting together a complete game and executing.”
Executing against Michigan begins in the form of slowing sophomore Katelyn Flaherty.
The 5-foot-7 sophomore guard averages 21.7 points per game and has been even better during conference play (22.3 points).
Flaherty had 24 points, including eight in the fourth quarter of the first meeting, despite going just 1-of-8 from 3-point range.
“She is just an unbelievable shooter,” Bluder said of Flaherty. “Step-back 3s, long-distance 3s, can get to the rim, gets to the free-throw line and really does a great job offensively.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
WHO: Michigan (11-8, 3-5 Big Ten) at Iowa (13-7, 3-5)
WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m., Carver-Hawkeye Arena
STAT LEADERS: Iowa – Ally Disterhoft 16.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg; Chase Coley 10.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg. Michigan – Katelynn Flaherty 21.7 ppg, 2.2 apg; Hallie Thome 13.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg.
WHAT TO WATCH: Expect to see Iowa make an extensive effort to get post touches for Chase Coley and Megan Gustafson, after the duo made their first start of the season together on Sunday at Purdue. Coley and Gustafson combined for 32 points on 12-of-16 shooting in the first meeting with Michigan, as Coley scored 18. Michigan is coming off a game in which it allowed a combined 50 points and 28 rebounds to Nebraska post players Jessica Shepard and Allie Havers.