IOWA CITY, Ia. — Maryland women’s basketball draws about 5,500 fans for its home games at the Xfinity Center in College Park. Add 500 to that number and you’ll get the likely attendance when Iowa plays the Terrapins this Sunday afternoon — always peak days for women’s college hoops.
If any of those 6,000 tell you they expect the Hawkeyes to win, they’re either lying or wearing black and gold. Even then they’re probably lying.
A couple weeks ago, when the Terps came to Iowa City, the Hawkeyes played them tough for a half. They even outscored them, 31-16, in the second quarter to enter halftime leading, 47-43.
Then Maryland employed a suffocating full-court press in the second half. Then paint titan Brionna Jones, who got in early foul trouble, played 19 of the final 20 minutes and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough scored 20 of her 22 points. Then the Terps obliterated Iowa on the glass, 20-11. Then they beat Iowa, 98-82.
So it’s a Yao Ming-level tall task that faces the Hawkeyes, and anybody that stands in the way of No. 3 Maryland’s steamroll to the Final Four. Head coach Lisa Bluder is taking a realistic approach.
"Certainly a win over Maryland is something we desperately need because it’s a top-25 win, winning on the road, giving them their first (Big Ten) loss," she said. "It would be a very significant win for us. But I don’t want to be all result-oriented. If we do lose and play well, I don’t want to be disappointed in that."
A win here would essentially book Iowa’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament, barring an epic collapse over the final eight Big Ten games.
Worst-case scenario is obviously a humiliating blowout — a death sentence for any road momentum garnered in the win at Rutgers. Also, when the NCAA Tournament selection committee is forced to split hairs for the bubble teams like Iowa, margin of defeat against the Marylands of the sport will be a factor.
The middle-ground scenario is a respectable loss, like the 16-point margin Maryland won by in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. A game that features runs by both sides before the team with future WNBA players pulls away late.
Both types of losses would affect Iowa’s RPI (currently 55) just the same. But one frankly looks better, and that can matter on Selection Monday.
"I want to come out there just knowing, did we get better?" Bluder said. "Did we play them better this time than we did the last time? Are we ready for Rutgers on Thursday? That’s what, I think, we at this point have to really concern ourselves with.
"But certainly we’d love to win, don’t get me wrong. That would be huge for us."
The Hawkeyes have had plenty of time to prepare for Maryland, Round 2. They haven’t played a game since beating Minnesota last Saturday. Meanwhile, Maryland’s played two games.
Bluder said the time off was good for the team.
"Really did a lot of scrimmaging, really worked on the conditioning aspect, staying in tune playing-wise," she said. "Usually you don’t get those times to add a few things or work on yourself or really scrimmage that much because you’re getting ready for the next opponent."
Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.
Iowa (13-7, 4-3) at Maryland (20-1, 8-0)
When/where: 1 p.m., Xfinity Center College Park
About the Terrapins: As a team Maryland shoots 50.9 percent, good for second-best in the country. It's also second in rebounding margin and points per game, third in scoring margin, fourth in rebounds and fifth in assists.