Lisa Bluder firmly believes her team can finish the regular season with four straight wins and earn a spot in the NCAA tournament for the ninth straight season.
You can call it optimistic. Bluder is just calling it like she sees it.
“We still feel like 4-0 is attainable, maybe I’m, what do they call it, looking through rose-colored glasses, but I mean that is what you have to do, right?” Bluder explained. “I genuinely believe it is possible still.”
Before Bluder and the Hawkeyes can concern themselves with their NCAA tournament status, they must focus on the 4-0 end to the Big Ten season.
That four-game stretch over 10 days opens on Thursday when Iowa (15-11, 5-9) hosts Purdue (16-9, 7-7).
Both teams will be trying to snap four-game losing skids when they tip it up at 7 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa is coming off a 78-76 loss to Minnesota on Monday, its fifth Big Ten loss in which it held a second-half lead.
“We just need to finish,” Iowa junior Ally Disterhoft said. “Finish halves, finish games and finish the season. It’s kind of been the conversation all year but we’ve had so many close games that we’ve let slip through our fingers and we really just have to execute down the stretch and just take it game by game.”
The path to a 4-0 finish and 9-9 record in Big Ten play appears passable for the Hawkeyes.
Three of those games come at home and only Indiana, which comes to Iowa City on Feb. 21, currently has a winning record in Big Ten play.
That said, Iowa is 0-3 against its final four opponents, having lost at Indiana and Purdue and dropping an 82-69 contest to Penn State at home.
“Every Big Ten team is a great team but we don’t have anyone in the top three to finish out our schedule, which is nice,” Disterhoft said. “That being said, Purdue is still a great team, Indiana, Illinois, Penn State they are good teams so we have to be ready.”
Purdue was the early surprise of the Big Ten season with a 5-0 start but has lost seven of nine since, including four straight.
One of the two wins for the Boilermakers since the 5-0 start was a 90-73 victory over Iowa in West Lafayette on Jan. 24.
“Purdue played very well in that game,” Bluder said. “I would have to bet it was one of Purdue’s best games of the year, it was their second-highest scoring game of the year. It was their best in the Big Ten, they shot 58 percent, it was one of those games where everything is clicking.”
The Boilermakers are led by the backcourt duo of April Wilson and Ashley Morrissette, who combine to average 27.4 points per game.
Wilson had 24 points and 12 assists in the first meeting with Iowa as the duo combined for 39 points on 15-of-23 shooting.
“April Wilson had an unbelievable game the last time we played them,” Bluder said. “She scored, she passed the ball, she just did everything for them the last game. It was a pretty impressive performance by her the last time we played them.”
Iowa enters Thursday on its own four-game skid, having lost seven of its last nine games dating to Jan. 16.
The Hawkeyes let double-digit leads slip away in losses at Indiana and Minnesota and suffered home losses to ranked opponents Michigan State and Ohio State.
“They are probably licking their lips a little bit, thinking they get Iowa this week, because that was one of their last good games,” Bluder said. “They will come in motivated and they’ll come in confident.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
Purdue (16-9, 7-7) at Iowa (15-11, 5-9)
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Stat leaders: Iowa – Ally Disterhoft 17.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg; Megan Gustafson 9.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg. Purdue – April Wilson 14.6 ppg, 5.9 apg; Ashley Morrissette 12.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg.
What to watch: The magic number for Iowa defensively has been 70 during Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes are 0-9 in Big Ten games when their opponents score more than 70 points and 5-0 when they scored below 70. Purdue enters Thursday’s game average 69.6 points per game during Big Ten play.