More opportunities for bench players could await No. 7 Iowa women's basketball against Wisconsin

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — While Wednesday’s matchup might not be the most glamorous given the grand stages Iowa women's basketball has played on this season, coach Lisa Bluder knows there’s still plenty to gain from those 40 minutes.

The No. 7 Hawkeyes (20-5, 12-2 Big Ten Conference) host Wisconsin (8-18, 3-11) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, looking for their 27th consecutive win over the Badgers dating back to 2007.   

Avoiding a catastrophic loss is obviously priority No. 1. Shortly behind that is building off the bench’s strong performance in Sunday’s blowout win over Rutgers.

“When those guys get the opportunity to play, they want to play,” Bluder said Tuesday. “They want to show what they’re capable of doing.

“I really enjoyed watching on film and seeing the reactions of our starters on the bench — and how much fun they were having in rejoicing in their teammates’ success out there. I think we have some good kids coming off the bench. It’s their time, and I think it’s fun when they get to have that opportunity.”

A Rutgers repeat from the reserves would do just fine. The Hawkeyes owned a 61-9 edge in bench points Sunday, which would’ve been good enough to beat the Scarlet Knights even without starters contributing anything.

Five reserves played double-digit minutes, with three of them scoring in double figures. Molly Davis’ team-high 17 points marked just the second game this season where Caitlin Clark didn’t lead the Hawkeyes in scoring. In just her second appearance over the last month, freshman Taylor McCabe set a career-high with four 3-pointers.

“Just (want to see) more like we saw against Rutgers,” Bluder said. “Keeping the intensity high no matter what. Keeping the focus high no matter what. Limiting mistakes. As you go down the stretch (of the season), the team that makes the fewest mistakes is often the team that wins. Just crisp and executing, that’s really what we’re looking for.”

Iowa went 13 deep in its 102-71 win at Wisconsin on Dec. 4. There’s a strong chance similar depth could be implemented Wednesday. Although Wisconsin did end its four-game losing streak with Saturday’s overtime win at Minnesota, the Badgers have dropped their four games against ranked Big Ten teams by a combined 104 points.    

Iowa, to its credit, has mostly avoided head-scratching losses — like this one would be — in recent seasons. All five of the Hawkeyes’ defeats this season have been Quadrant 1 losses.

“One bad loss takes you out of the picture (for a Big Ten title), so you just don’t want to have any of those bad losses,” Bluder said. “I don’t think we’ve had a bad loss yet this year. You go back and think 1-point (loss) at Kansas State — it was early, 1 point, on the road.

“I don’t think we’ve had a bad loss, and we want to keep it that way.”

If Iowa avoids that bad loss plenty of opportunities are ahead. The Hawkeyes sit 1.5 games back of league-leader Indiana after the Hoosiers throttled Ohio State on Monday night. If Iowa wins its next three games, it will, at worst, enter the finale versus Indiana with a chance to clinch a share of the Big Ten regular-season title for a second straight year. If the Hoosiers stumble once — which could happen Thursday against No. 13 Michigan — then the Hawkeyes could clinch things outright with a perfect regular-season finish.

None of that matters, though, if Iowa falters against Wisconsin. Expect the Badgers to have Iowa’s full attention Wednesday night.      

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