Iowa, Michigan meet for third time in Big Ten tourney opener
In a pair of regular-season matchups, Iowa and Michigan took turns winning on their respective home courts.
The rubber game in the season series comes Thursday in Indianapolis and brings with it win-or-go-home consequences.
No. 9 seed Iowa (18-12) and eighth-seeded Michigan (17-12) will meet for the third time in less than two months on Thursday at 11 a.m. in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The winner takes the season series and gets a quarterfinal matchup with top seed and sixth-ranked Maryland (27-3) on Friday.
“I think we’ll be ready, I think we’ll be focused,” Iowa junior Ally Disterhoft said. “It’s really just talking with our team and letting them know that this is like a new season, it’s a blank slate and teams can come into this tournament and do great things.”
Splitting a pair of games makes the regular-season series appear dead even. Leading into Thursday's third meeting, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder is letting her Hawkeyes know that isn’t exactly the way she saw things unfold.
Iowa outscored Michigan in five of eight quarters during the two meetings, with the two teams playing even in two other quarters.
The only quarter Michigan outscored Iowa was a 30-13 fourth-quarter outburst by the Wolverines that erased a 10-point Iowa lead and led to an 82-75 Michigan win in the first game in Ann Arbor in January.
“The first game we won for three quarters and had a bad fourth quarter, and the second time we played them we won each of the quarters and maybe tied one of them,” Bluder explained. “I want our team to know that we have won seven of eight quarters against Michigan.”
The key to getting past Michigan isn’t complicated and it starts with slowing Katelynn Flaherty. It's almost impossible to stop the 5-foot-7 sophomore, who ranked third in the conference in scoring at 22.3 points per game.
“She is going to get some, she has gone against some of the best defensive players in the Big Ten Conference and she is still averaging over 22 points a game, so for us to say we are going to stop her, I think that is kind of ridiculous,” Bluder said. “We just need to slow her down and make sure she doesn’t have good looks, that she earns her shots that she puts up a lot of shots to get those kind of numbers.”
Flaherty has had success in the first two meetings with Iowa. She had 24 points in the Wolverines' win in Ann Arbor and put up 31 points in Iowa’s 85-69 win in Iowa City. In the second meeting, 24 of Flaherty’s 31 points came in the first half.
“I think we know what to expect, we have played them twice already,” Disterhoft said. “They have a really great scorer in Katelynn Flaherty, so we are going to have to really identify her.”
Flaherty has had some help this season from 6-foot-5 freshman Hallie Thome, who is averaging 14.5 points per game.
The Hawkeyes have limited Thome to 10 and eight points in the two previous meetings with the Wolverines.
“Michigan is a very balanced team,” Bluder said. “They score a lot of points and they are just really good offensively.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
Iowa (18-12, 8-10) vs. Michigan (17-12, 9-9)
When: Thursday, 11 a.m. CST
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Stat leaders: Iowa – Ally Disterhoft 16.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg; Chase Coley 11.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg. Michigan – Katelynn Flaherty 22.3 ppg; Hallie Thome 14.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg.
What to watch: Iowa enters the postseason after winning three of its final four games to end the regular season. The Hawkeyes will be trying to win their Big Ten Tournament opener for the fourth consecutive year after downing Nebraska in its tournament opener last year. ... Michigan won five of its final seven games to end the regular season to finish with at least nine conference wins for the eighth time in program history. ... Michigan sophomore Katelynn Flaherty needs 14 points on Thursday to set a new Michigan single-season scoring record.