No. 21 Iowa opens Big Ten play at Wisconsin

Women's basketball: Hawkeyes have beaten the Badgers 17 straight times

Iowa forward Carly Mohns (34) heads to the basket against Western Michigan on Nov. 19. Mohns and Megan Gustafson head back to their native state when the 21st-ranked Hawkeyes face Wisconsin in their Big Ten women’s basketball opener Thursday at Madison. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa forward Carly Mohns (34) heads to the basket against Western Michigan on Nov. 19. Mohns and Megan Gustafson head back to their native state when the 21st-ranked Hawkeyes face Wisconsin in their Big Ten women’s basketball opener Thursday at Madison. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — For Megan Gustafson, the cold snap turned a short flight into a long drive.

The thermometer read 15-below at the airport in Duluth, Minn., early Tuesday morning, the day the University of Iowa women’s basketball team was scheduled to gather for a 4 p.m. practice after a four-day Christmas vacation.

Flights were grounded, including the one that Gustafson was going to take to get from her home in nearby Port Wing, Wis., to Iowa City.

Instead, her father Clendon drove her back, an eight-hour journey, back in the nick of time — “a real-life superhero,” according to his daughter on Twitter.

The 21st-ranked Hawkeyes (12-1) will be road-trippers for the better part of the next four weeks. Five of their first seven Big Ten contests are on the road, starting with a date Thursday at Wisconsin (7-6).

Tipoff is 7 p.m. at the Kohl Center in Madison.

“I don’t really look at it as five of seven being on the road,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. “I just kind of break it into week-long chunks.

“I know that Thursday we’re at Wisconsin, and that Sunday we host Michigan. I don’t know who we play after that.”

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This has been a one-sided series lately; the Hawkeyes have beaten Wisconsin 17 straight times. Eleven of those games have been decided by 10 points or less, though, and three have gone overtime.

“Sometimes it becomes a mental thing,” Bluder said. “You just feel like you have the other team’s number.”

The Hawkeyes shouldn’t be caught looking ahead. That happened in their Big Ten opener last year, and got burned at Illinois.

“That still bothers me, to be honest,” Bluder said. “We didn’t have complete focus for that game.

“We discussed that before we left for break. We have to be ready, because this year’s Wisconsin team is better than last year’s Illinois team.”

On the other hand, this year’s Hawkeyes are better than last year’s counterparts.

Iowa’s RPI (24) is better than all but two teams in the Big Ten, trailing just resurgent Rutgers (5) and league favorite Ohio State (8).

The Hawkeyes lead the nation in assists per game (23.8), are fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.58-to-1) and fifth in field-goal percentage (.513).

Still, Bluder said, there is work to be done.

“No coach is completely happy,” she said. “Our passing decisions can get better. Boxing out ... getting players other than Megan to the offensive boards ... there’s always room for improvement.”

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Gustafson, who earned Big Ten player-of-the-week honors for the fourth time this season, is one of two Wisconsin natives on the Iowa roster. Carly Mohns is the other.

“They’ll be motivated,” Bluder said. “Any time you go back to your home state, you have a little extra pride in the decision you made (in terms of) where you chose to go to school.”

Bluder reported that Tania Davis will undergo surgery Jan. 4 to repair her left knee. Davis suffered a torn ACL and medial meniscus Dec. 17 at Northern Iowa.

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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