Despite recent stumbles, No. 13 Iowa can deliver signature early-season win vs. No. 8 Iowa State
IOWA CITY — When Lisa Bluder constructed Iowa’s rugged non-conference slate for this rare group of veterans, two objectives stood out. Not only would these high-end early-season matchups represent perfect March Madness simulations, the Hawkeyes would also have ample chances to create memorable moments in a recent run full of them.
Iowa (6-3) has achieved the former. A tough neutral-site battle with No. 6 Connecticut and the frustration that followed showed the Hawkeyes aren’t settling for moral victories against women’s basketball powerhouses. Road trips to Drake and No. 25 Kansas State offered additional lessons — one good, one bad — on closing out games. A home disappointment against No. 10 North Carolina State re-emphasized Iowa’s need for clutch defense to pair with Caitlin Clark's heroics.
Ultimately, though, an eye-popping victory is missing to this point. Is it essential for this season’s success? No. The Hawkeyes were still a No. 2 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament after suffering three non-conference losses with a headliner win over Central Florida.
But opportunities like Wednesday don’t come along very often.
A chance at a top-10 victory in front of a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena (or close to it) — all while factoring in the never-fading elements of an in-state rivalry that’s as intense as it’s ever been. All that potentially awaits No. 13 Iowa as it enters another Cy-Hawk showdown with No. 8 Iowa State. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
“Our front schedule is so loaded, and Iowa State, we know, is one of those teams that we have to put on our best show and do our best in order to win. And that’s just how it is,” said Hawkeyes center Monika Czinano. “But we’re all really excited. I know I’m not from Iowa, but five years here — I kind of feel like I’m from Iowa. I can take that title now, so it means a lot.”
Part of the reason this matchup will add another highly ranked chapter Wednesday has to do with athletes on each side exercising a fifth year of eligibility. Iowa’s boost obviously came via Czinano’s decision to return. Perennial All-American and Iowa City native Ashley Joens supplied the same positive jolt to the Cyclones.
Consider that a microcosm of the veteran moxie both teams have. The familiarity between these two programs has never been higher — concrete styles established on both sides — which will put an even higher premium on execution without trickeration.
“A lot of it is execution, right? Last year we turned the ball over more than they did. They got to the free-throw line a whole lot more than we did,” Bluder said. “So a lot of it is game-by-game and making changes during the timeouts, those type of things. It’s execution and being able to value the ball. They got more O-boards than we did last year. Those are things we can control.
“We probably do know a lot of what each other is going to do, but it really just comes down to the kids getting it done.”
As Bluder alluded to, this is the first time Iowa enters a Cy-Hawk game coming off a loss in the series since 2016. Iowa State halted the Hawkeyes’ five-game winning streak in the series with a 77-70 victory in Hilton Coliseum a season ago. The Cyclones haven’t won in Carver-Hawkeye Arena since 2006.
Avoiding a repeat of that will require Iowa to showcase its offensive product at full throttle, while also delivering much more defensive resistance than displayed at other times this season. The Hawkeyes got a needed palette-cleansing win at Wisconsin, which prevented Iowa from carrying a three-game losing streak into Wednesday night's game.
“Yeah we lost to UConn and came back and lost again (to NC State), but that didn’t make or break our year. We know that,” Clark said. “Maybe in the past, that flusters us and we go to Wisconsin and don’t play very well. We know as a veteran group that it’s a really long year.
“Last year, we had our ups and downs against teams that weren’t ranked, but this year, we’re losing to teams that are very, very good. But we also know we can beat those teams. That just speaks to how long our starting five have been here. We know it’s a long season and we know we have more chances to beat really, really good teams.”
A great chance for that arrives Wednesday.
Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.