IOWA CITY — If not now, when? Twenty-eight years have passed since the Iowa Hawkeyes last broke serve in this series, claiming a women’s basketball road victory against Iowa State.
The date: Dec. 17, 1989. The score: 75-55. At the time, current Iowa coach Lisa Bluder was in her final season at St. Ambrose.
The Cyclones have won all 10 of the Cy-Hawk encounters at Hilton Coliseum since the series was renewed in 1996. But the Hawkeyes (8-1) are encouraged that Wednesday is the day they break through.
“I do feel we’ve got a good chance,” Bluder said at Monday’s press conference. “Whenever you go on the road, it’s a little harder. But I like where our team is. I like the confidence, and I like the chemistry.”
Tipoff is 6:30 p.m.
Iowa State limps into the game at 3-4, including road losses to Northern Iowa and Drake. But Hilton is Hilton, where the Cyclones have averaged more than 9,000 fans per game each of the last 10 years. And that’s worth a lot.
“Their belief, on their home court, is hard to defend,” said Bluder, who is 0-8 at Hilton as Iowa’s coach.
The Cyclones rallied in their last Hilton encounter with the Hawkeyes for a 69-66 win.
“Last time, maybe the atmosphere was too much for our team,” Iowa’s Megan Gustafson said. “We’re going to stay strong and confident, and believe in each other.”
Sophomores Makenzie Meyer and Amanda Ollinger are the Hawkeyes’ two in-state natives.
“We only have two Iowa kids on our roster, but we have three Iowa coaches, and the kids know how much it means to us,” Bluder said.
A native of Mason City (which is an hour away from Ames), Meyer considered attending ISU before choosing Iowa, and has only been inside Hilton once for a women’s game.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the hype of Hilton Magic,” she said.
A native of Grand Blanc, Mich., Hawkeyes guard Tania Davis compared this rivalry to Michigan-Michigan State.
“It feels that way, but bigger,” Davis said. “Maybe it’s because we just play them once in a year.”
The Hawkeyes will try to neutralize Iowa State’s Bridget Carleton, who averages 20 points per game.
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“She is really, really special, a hard matchup,” Bluder said. “She can play anywhere from point guard to power forward.”
Iowa counters with the inside dominance of Gustafson. The 6-foot-3 junior averages 22.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and is shooting 69.6 percent from the field. She has been named Big Ten player of the week twice this season.
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Iowa leads the country in assists per game (25.0). They are playing unselfish basketball. Joyous.
“All of us are playing more freely, more loosely this year,” Davis said. “I can’t tell you why. I don’t know if it’s the personnel, the offense, or what.”
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