Fresh off a week-long recharge, No. 11 Iowa women's basketball dives back in vs. UNI

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — With a week off to recharge and an always-entertaining in-state matchup on deck, the Iowa women’s basketball team is ready to dive back into the final portion of its non-conference slate.

The No. 11 Hawkeyes (8-3) won’t have another ranked showdown until the main portion of Big Ten play starts, but Sunday’s 2 p.m. game against Northern Iowa (5-3) inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena offers up a solid challenge right out of the final-exam break.

“It’s always fun,” said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. “The in-state rivalries always seem to bring some added emotion. Sometimes you play non-conference games, and they don’t have that benefit of having a March feeling or a Big Ten Tournament feeling or a Big Ten game feeling.

“But whenever you play an in-state rival — I don’t care who it is — you always have that extra emotion there. I think it’s really good for your players to learn to play with that added extra emotion.”            

Iowa will operate at full strength for the contest. Starting guard Kate Martin gave everyone a scare last Saturday while writhing in pain on the floor with what turned out to be a deep shin bruise. She missed most of the second half in Iowa’s 87-64 win over Minnesota and was seen on the bench with crutches and a heavy ice pack.

Bluder, though, says Martin — who sat out practice Monday and Tuesday before returning later in the week — is ready to roll against the Panthers. It’s not the first time this season Iowa has dodged what looked to be a grim situation on the court.

Superstar Caitlin Clark has severely rolled her ankle twice in games — once in the opener against Southern, again on the final play in Iowa’s loss at Kansas State — while Gabbie Marshall lost a tooth in the final minutes against Iowa State. Martin herself began this season in a protective mask.

“To be successful, you really, really have to stay healthy,” Bluder said. “… We’re always hoping for a non-injury (plagued) season.”

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark had had a couple of injury scares so far this season, but she hasn't had to miss significant time.

With no availability concerns, the Hawkeyes can attack UNI’s depth head-on. Ten Panthers average at least double-digit minutes, with four of those averaging at least 9.5 points per game. Grace Boffeli (North Scott, 15.9 ppg), Maya McDermott (Johnston, 13.8 ppg) and Kam Finley (Cedar Falls, 10.5 ppg) lead an Iowan-heavy roster in scoring.

Iowa has won 24 of the 27 all-time games against UNI, including 14 of the last 15. Only once — Dec. 19, 2006 — have the Panthers won in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But none of that means Sunday’s matchup will be an inevitable cakewalk.

“Everyone’s got a great amount of pride when you’re an athlete,” Bluder said. “You love to compete. And so to them, I’m sure this is a special game. When I was at Drake, (facing Iowa) was always a special game. So I would imagine for UNI, it’s a special game as well. An opportunity to take down a Power 5 conference (opponent), you have all those extra incentives with it.”

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.